As India goes to elections in a month’s time, there is a pervading sense of concern and of dismay about the candidates, political parties and alliances that form part of the electoral canvas. A staggering 20% of the current members of Parliament have criminal records, some of whom have charges of heinous crimes such as murder, rape, dacoity and kidnapping against them. While section 8 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951 provides for the disqualification of a candidate from election following conviction for an offence listed in that section, section 8(4) provides that such a disqualification shall not take effect if there is an appeal or application for revision pending in respect of that offence. Given that there is an automatic right of appeal with respect to most criminal convictions and the tremendous backlog of cases in courts as discussed in previous blogposts here and here, not only do most MPs complete their terms before an appeal against their conviction is disposed off but also often if they belong to the party in power, the cases against them fall apart due to political pressure on the investigative agencies and presumably also on the courts.
In an attempt to rectify this situation and galvanized into action by the Mumbai terror attacks, the Public Interest Foundation in New Delhi chaired by Bimal Jalan, a nominated member of Parliament, has launched the “No Criminals in Politics” campaign. According to the campaign concept note, “[t]he recent Mumbai attacks have once again highlighted the need for individuals with a high level of personal integrity to provide effective leadership for our country.” The core idea of the campaign is to initiate a nationwide effort to enable large numbers of citizens to appeal to political parties not to give tickets to people with criminal antecedents in the upcoming elections. The campaign website provides information on the criminal antecedents of sitting MPs and also provides details of such criminal cases. It also provides news and updates about the election alongwith its partners, the Association for Democratic Reforms, National Election Watch and Jaago Re. The campaign calls upon people to popularise the campaign message through email/sms, social networking sites, discussions in the blogosphere as well as through organisation of events propagating the campaign message in places across the country.