The Indian PM got his math correct; people returned 34% of the representatives with criminal records and he gave back 27% of them as their ministers. The ADR and NEW analysis shows that candidates charged with crime actually fare better at elections than ‘clean’ candidate. It is also noted that candidate with criminal cases tend to be given ticket repeatedly. (See, here, page 16) When the political and criminal graphs are intricately connected, it is better to be a criminal if not already. It was Thomas Jefferson, who said; 'The Government you elect is the Government you deserve.”
Even with NOTA, if one third of our representatives at center are with criminal records, something is seriously ailing our democracy. The lofty eloquence of the SC in its August 27th, 2014 judgment in Narula is of little consequence. Narula poses a vital issue; does democracy means freedom to choose without restrictions. Constitution of India and Representation of People Laws places skeletal regulation on qualification to contest elections. Legislation is slightly more expressive with regard to disqualification to represent. For being a minister, much lesser are the requirements. One need not even be a representative for the first six month of ministerial berth. Non-prescription of qualification is both liberating and a slippery slope. Perhaps the ominous disquiet expressed by Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the President of the Constituent Assembly, in the context of laying down qualification for representatives that it is impossible to articulate yardsticks for measuring moral virtues of human beings, that it will remain the short coming of our constitution remain true as ever.
The fundamental question to ask is, where in democracy shall the screening be placed? Or is it a case that we should question the basic assumptions taken. Should there be a screening of persons who shall contest election at all. Is there anything inherently evil in criminals/ people with criminal background being elected, if people prefer them to be their representatives? After all, Robin Hood was of the mass. Good and evil are always constructed on the scales we use. I leave this discussion for later.
In the circle of democracy that we practice, we have already 'democratically formed' certain rules and regulations regarding representation. These rules presently hold that person convicted of an offence of specified categories are not qualified to be representing others in legislative bodies and therefore occupy ministerial position as well (see, B.R Kapur). There is no rule prohibiting any person charged with an offense from neither contesting nor holding ministerial position.
Now the game changes into the realm of constitutional convention, implied limitation, political proprietary, trust, morality, legitimate expectation to prevent tainted from becoming a minister. Most of these terms in party politics scenario is oxymoronic and call for a hearty laugh.
The central issue remains, why do people elect tainted persons? The right to information wave was a relief that it brought a hope that the flow of sunlight will be the best disinfectant. Despite that MPs with crime records increased by 4% from last House in Center. Efforts to check criminalization of politics have been perpetual. The pages written by official commissions are enough to bury the all the criminals. Law Commission in its 244th report, of which ink is yet to dry, has spent its time and energy to collate required legislative changes on disqualification of elected representatives. In reality, Nitin Gadkari and Uma Bharati rules, so also 10 others in central government, some even with charges of murder and rioting.
It is natural then to raise questions about democracy itself. Or as frequently hear, India’s maturity to handle democracy. Often failures are blamed on democracy as a choice of governance but it is overlooked that success of democracy needs existence of collateral liberal institutions, public spaces and deliberations. Public memory is known to be short. In a nation like India where survival is the primary issue which is further complicated with boundaries set by cast, religion and region, conscious efforts need to be taken to make public memory alive. Development of a collective consciousness is the backbone of any social co-existence and is primal for democracy.
The deluge of “breaking news” and unreal melodramatic soap operas, which gives voyeuristic pleasure, is degenerating this public space. Social media is gradually reduced into narcissist selfies, shaping a community inept for democratic living.
“Democracy is a poor system of government at best; the only thing that can honestly be said in its favor is that it is about eight times as good as any other method the human race has ever tried. Democracy's worst fault is that its leaders are likely to reflect the faults and virtues of their constituents — a depressingly low level, but what else can you expect?” (Robert A. Heinlein, in Stranger in a Strange Land ).”
Democracy is all what we have. Let us work with it. The significance of media, universities and civil society organizations are here.