The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Parties divided on electoral reform ruling

New Delhi, March 13: The Centre is likely to convene an all-party meeting to discuss the fallout of the Supreme Court verdict that declared the electoral reforms law unconstitutional.

Parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said the law was “born out of an all-party meeting”. As the ruling coalition and the Opposition had reached a consensus, both would have to put their heads together after today’s development.

However, it appeared that the political establishment was divided in its reaction. While the Congress said it was not in favour of “an amendment to nullify the Supreme Court order”, the BJP declared that “Parliament is supreme as far as legislative competence is concerned”.

The court had observed that the law enacted by Parliament last year was beyond its legislative competence as it said that voters did not have the right to know about candidates before they voted. The three-judge bench restored its earlier directive making it mandatory for candidates to declare their criminal antecedents, if any, assets and liabilities and educational qualification right at the time of filing nomination papers.

A statement from Congress president Sonia Gandhi said: “The party is fully in concurrence with the orders of the Supreme Court that candidates must disclose all relevant information called for, particularly regarding convictions and charges for offences, assets and bank balances, and liabilities and overdues. The Congress party believes that such information must be disclosed by all candidates at the time of filing nomination and prior to elections.”

Sonia said the Congress “attaches great importance to the issue of electoral law reforms in the light of the recent Supreme Court order for disclosure of information by candidates”. She expressed distress that the Congress had been clubbed with other parties in projecting the impression that the political establishment was opposed to the implementation of the apex court’s order.

The Congress chief said the only point on which her party disagreed with the Election Commission’s directive was vesting returning officers with powers to probe the veracity of the information given and reject nomination papers on grounds of incomplete or false information.

Though Swaraj was guarded in her reaction and distanced the government from the controversial law, BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra did not conceal his unhappiness with the court ruling.

“The decision is serious and calls for deep introspection. Lawmaking, law interpretation and law implementation are functions which are divided between Parliament, the executive and the judiciary. The Constitution is clear on the rights of each of them. The way our political system works, members are often framed. It is for parties to think if their nomination papers can be rejected on the basis of trumped-up charges,” he said.

The Samajwadi Party came out more strongly against the decision. Its chief whip in the Lok Sabha, Akhilesh Singh, said the law would be used more stringently against “activists who were out on the streets agitating and protesting” than those “who relax in air-conditioned rooms”. “The law would be applied only against those who take part in grassroots struggles. If this happens there will be mayhem,” he warned.

Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal took a view close to the Congress. Its leader, Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, said: “The Supreme Court’s ruling is proper. If political parties cannot stem criminalisation, some other institution like the Supreme Court will have to step in.”

The CPM rephrased the Samajwadi’s view to say there was no provision in either the Indian Penal Code or the Criminal Procedure Code to distinguish criminal charges from political cases. “So how will the law decide who is a criminal and who is a political activist'” asked general secretary H.S. Surjeet.

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