A chance to cleanse Indian politics

Supreme Court ruling on disqualifying criminal lawmakers is a welcome step, but challenges remain

Gulf News

It is a landmark judgement that promises to bring to an end India’s long, agonising wait to see criminality in its politics being brought to book. Last week, the Supreme Court of India ruled that, henceforth, politicians convicted for criminal offenses will be immediately disqualified from their posts in the parliament and state assemblies. The ruling is rightly being seen as a welcome purge for the Indian polity given that the statistics of the criminally charged, and in many cases convicted, politicians are by no means negligible. Out of the 4,835 members of parliament, state legislative assemblies and state legislative councils, 1,448 are in the dock for crimes ranging from extortion, bribery, murder, attempt to murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery. The ruling comes as a result of a petition filed by an advocate with regard to a provision in the Representation of the People’s Act (RPA) under the Indian Constitution that barred criminally convicted politicians from contesting elections but allowed them to continue in office pending their appeal in a higher court. And herein lies the rub. While the Supreme Court ruling dispensed with that provision, the fact that it has not done so with retrospective effect is the spanner in the works. This, in effect, means that the lumpen political elements who have been convicted and who have appealed in a higher court will not be impacted by this ruling. Which is a pity. Also, given the excruciatingly slow pace of the Indian judicial system, they may actually enjoy a long, undisturbed career. As will those whose venality finds traction in India’s rampant corruption that enables them to circumvent the system entirely, thereby escaping conviction. Caught between these realities, India’s political parties welcomed the ruling in careful prose but were also not able to conceal the nervous flutter in the ranks that led to predictable views on how such a ruling would impact those who are falsely convicted, and the consequent damage to party strength and composition. Given the dead weight of corruption, these fears are feather-light. Let us hope this ruling can cleanse the grime in the Indian political fabric.