News / Asia

India’s Supreme Court Ruling Paves Way For Cleaning up Politics

A view of the Indian Supreme Court building in New Delhi, Dec.7, 2010.
A view of the Indian Supreme Court building in New Delhi, Dec.7, 2010.
Anjana Pasricha
A ruling by India’s Supreme Court barring legislators who have been convicted of a serious crime from retaining office is expected to clean up politics in the world’s largest democracy.  Nearly one third of Indian legislators face a range of criminal charges.

In 2008, when India’s Congress-led government faced a close confidence vote, five legislators were temporarily freed from jail to participate.  Although convicted for crimes ranging from extortion to murder and kidnapping, they retained their parliamentary seats because they could continue in office pending appeals to higher courts.

But that is to change.  The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that future lawmakers are to lose their seats if they are convicted of a serious crime.  They will also be barred from contesting elections if they have been sentenced to at least two years in jail.

The ruling is being hailed as a major step in cleaning up Indian politics, where nearly one third of the members of parliament and state legislatures are charged with criminal cases.

It is widely accepted that criminals and strongmen, with wealth to fund election campaigns, have found a berth in virtually all political parties.

Anil Bairwal of the Association of Democratic Reforms says the problem snowballed as parties chose to field candidates guaranteed to deliver votes.
“Our political parties, they have chosen to give tickets to people on the basis of “winnability” factor.  And the two main ways for them to win elections:  one is muscle power and other is money power.  Using muscle power they are able to round up people and threaten them to get votes.  That is why they started getting these type of candidates.  Over a period of time this issue has become too large," said Bairwal.
In the present parliament, 162 of 543 members face criminal charges, according to the Association of Democratic Reforms. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has 42 MP’s charged with crimes, the ruling Congress Party, 41.

And in a country with a slow justice system, where cases and appeals often drag on for decades, such candidates continue to fight successive elections.  
George Mathews with the Institute of Social Science in New Delhi says that has led to a degeneration of India’s vibrant democracy.  
“A system, and a thinking, and a culture, which was prevailing for the last 65 years, can you overnight change it with one verdict?  No. This is the first step. There are several other steps to follow.  This has to be accepted by all political parties as a culture, that this is something we will implement so that only men and women with integrity will enter public life," said Mathews.

Political parties have reacted guardedly to the ruling. The ruling Congress Party says it will consult other parties on the course of action regarding the verdict.  The BJP said any step to purify and strengthen the political system is welcome.

Anil Bairwal hopes that practical considerations will prompt political parties to weed out candidates with a criminal record.

“Now political parties will have to think twice about giving tickets to tainted candidates because they will have to worry that if they are convicted by a court, they will lose their seat and that will bring down their number," said Bairwal.

Civil society groups say they will keep a close eye on political parties as they nominate candidates for national elections scheduled to be held in 2014.  

The parties say any real effort at cleaning up politics can only come if there are more transparent ways to raise money to contest elections in a country where corporate funding is outlawed.

You May Like

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Anil Khandelwal from: Gurgaon
July 14, 2013 6:57 AM
When there was no hue & cry among politicians towards coming
of criminals to Parliament & legislative assemblies for so many years But now in absence of long pending electoral reforms,if Supreme Court have given rulings,then why hue & cry. We must watch its implementation for two general elections and
see what kind of sky falls. If we see there is some problem, then some points may be changed in the ruling. We do not foresee any problem. Since the ruling is for noble cause,so we should proceed in the direction of its implementation rather than involve in petty and hypothetical discussion. Its result will prove its worth.

by: Ved Gupta from: USA
July 12, 2013 4:46 PM
Fast track court should be established to expedite the appealed cases to block the loopholes.

by: hanmi reddy from: hyderabad
July 11, 2013 5:34 PM
It will be misused by those in power.

by: vkn128 from: India
July 11, 2013 2:19 PM
In real life " Good People abide by the law ....Bad one go around it ..."

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs