Friday, October 4, 2013

De-criminalisation of Politics - Is Democracy Working?

We hailed Supreme Court verdict that a law maker would be disqualified immediately on being convicted in a criminal case punishable with more than two years in jail. The Supreme Court had struck down section 8(4) of the Representation of People Act 1951. This subsection of Section 8 provided for the suspension of the disqualification if within the next three months an appeal or revision was brought against the order. Most convicts, if they are wealthy or otherwise powerful, appeal against the conviction pronounced by the lower court at a higher court. Consequently, in most cases, in the past, disqualifications were suspended.

Then we learned that the Government would bring an Ordinance to nullify the Supreme Court verdict. We thought it was a step in retrograde. Subsequent events proved that the President is not a paper tiger. The government withdrew the Ordinance after Mr. Rahul Gandhi, the Vice President of the Congresses had condemned the Ordinance as 'nonsense'. We do not know whether Mr. Gandhi's sharp criticism of the Ordinance in a public forum came from his personal conviction or was simply a damage control exercise. We were subsequently explained that even attaining the age of forty, you remain a kid and you should be excused even if you disrespect the highest office in the Government due to wrong choice of words and expressions.

Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav has been sentenced for five years and consequently he has lost his seat in the parliament. He is disqualified immediately to context elections for the next six years.

The whole episode took the nation through different shades of excitement. Some said that the Supreme Court judgement was a big leap forward in de-criminalisation of the Indian politics. Some perceived Mr. Gandhi's outburst as the expression of the anguish of the young generation driven by their concern for the increasing criminalisation of politics. As a whole that nation believed that something 'good' is happening.

Today the Times of India reports that Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav seems to have been enjoying the jail stint as other inmates are providing services to him. The report also says that he is "as good as he was outside the jail."

None  other than a political leader of Mr. Yadav's stature can understand the implications of his imprisonment. His coolness signifies that he could see a silver lining in his punishment. Perhaps it will accelerate the process of achieving political ambition of his son. May be that his party will benefit not only from the induction of a young face and brain at the helm of the party and by declaring himself as a martyr.

We in India believe too much on conspiracy theory. We smell conspiracy whenever an unpleasant event affects any one, particularly if it happens to a political leader of Mr. Yadav's stature. Moreover, the mass do not give weight to corruption issues or criminal acts of leaders. Quite likely that Mr. Yadav's supporters believe that he is jailed for a small crime due to the criminal conspiracy of opposition political parties.

Those who are marginalised in the society find it difficult to trade off between development and corruption or criminalisation of politics. They take corruption as a 'way of life' of those who enjoy power. More importantly, development is the priority for them because the aspire for a better quality of life. This phenomenon is reflected in past election results. Therefore, political parties thrive even if their leaders are convicted.

The Supreme Court judgement shall have a marginal effect if the government fails, intentionally or otherwise, to convict political leaders who are involved in crimes.

We have to wait for future elections, particularly the general election of 2014, to understand the mood of masses. After the general election we shall see if the number of members with criminal background in the new parliament is reduced substantially and the number of voters who rejected all the candidates.

My conviction is that nothing will change significantly. At present I take Supreme Court's verdict as a small step towards de-criminalisation of Indian politics and not a big leap forward. I shall wait for a surprise.

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