Criminal taint grows on ballot choices

In September 2018 a five-judge constitution bench that included the Chief Justice of India, pronounced an important verdict on criminals in politics. The Supreme Court was hearing a batch of petitions seeking disqualification of candidates who have pending criminal cases. One of these petitions was a PIL filed by the Public Interest Foundation of India (PIF) back in 2011. The Director of PIF had written these words, even before the results of the 2014 elections were announced. “The next government will face the challenge of curbing corruption… It must be remembered that the government will be on probation as its performance would be critically tracked by a very vibrant civil society and media.” That Director was later handpicked to become the Principal Secretary to the new Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. The PIF petition had asked for the removal of criminals from the ballot. This was the petition that was disposed by the Supreme Court in 2018. But its verdict unfortunately stopped short of disqualifying criminally tainted candidates. The Central government which was a defendant in the suit, firmly opposed the petition, saying that legislating a new disqualification was not in the domain of the court. It was for parliament to pass such a law. Besides, the Centre used the old argument, that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and cannot be deprived of the right to vote, or the right to contest elections merely based on criminal charges. The court expressed helplessness, and not for the first time.

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