The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Closure is satisfying all round. Driven by this faith, the cabinet has brought to a successful close all discussion about electoral reform for the time being. Plenty of words, paper and time, apart from other consumables, have been spent on recommending electoral reforms and thrashing them out in stages. The purpose of most of the recommendations was to ensure that legislators do not have a stain on their characters, either in the form of criminal charges or records, or in the form of unaccounted for assets. This was too close to the bone. In a rare show of political unity, legislators from all parties decided that a charge of “heinous crime”, that is, murder or rape, is no reason to disqualify a person from contesting elections. Nor would candidates need to declare their assets and educational qualifications. The singlemindedness with which the recommendations were trashed indicated the present legislators’ anxiety to secure a position that is untenable. So the cabinet has opted for a measure which achieves nothing substantially more than what is already required by the Representation of People’s Act. It has plugged a loophole. Section 8(1) of the act was so phrased as to allow a person sentenced to more than six years of prison for “heinous” crime to contest elections while serving his prison term. The amendment will bar the person from contesting from prison and for six years after he is released. Evidently, this has been done to make the provision as stringent as Sections (2) and (3) of the same clause, which do not allow a person convicted of other crimes to contest polls from prison or for six years thereafter.

This virtuous search for parity in an existing legislation is just an impressive show. The operative word in the recommendations is, of course, “charged”. In a country where the rate of conviction is shockingly low, especially for crimes like rape and murder, and the judicial process notoriously slow as well, convictions can hardly be a serious concern. Besides, the dock is not where politicians like to be and they have a way of getting what they like. If reforms are directed against the abuse of power and the use of criminality, then a charge of crime should be more than enough to debar a candidate from contesting. There should not be even a hint of crime associated with legislators. This closure with fanfare is a ceremonious way of pushing the question under the carpet and nailing the carpet down carefully at the borders. Cleansing politics of criminality will remain a mirage as long as the legislators themselves keep looking for the biggest cupboards to stuff their skeletons into.

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