By M.C. Linthoingambee
With transparency amongst the Governan circles becoming a hot issue, India is yet again in another bind. The country’s legislators have come up with the Representation of the People (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance, 2013 wherein convicted MPs and MLAs will be protected. Has the Indian Governing system become a paradise for a crime parody that the legislation sees it as a necessity to validate such an outcome? This is one question that needs a careful scrutiny. As far as legality goes, this particular power to pass an ordinance rests with the President under Article 123 of the Constitution of India wherein when the Parliament does not stand in session as a temporary arrangement. It is valid in so far as a period of six weeks until it is either ended by the President or it has expired from the stated time frame.
While this particular ordinance concluded upon by the Union Progressive Alliance Government of India is set to allow Indian lawmakers convicted of a crime to contest election while appeals against their conviction are pending in higher courts, a number of criticisms and negations have come forth from Opposition Parties. The earlier judgment which had already disqualified lawmakers convicted of offences with 2 years or more in jail but also barred them from contesting elections is now put on stronghold as the new ordinance is set to remedy them. The ordinance will allow convicted legislators to continue in office, if the appeal against the conviction is admitted by a higher court, within 90 days. The ordinance says that if a lawmaker appeals against conviction or the sentence is stayed by a higher court, he/she can attend Parliament/ state Assemblies but cannot draw salaries or vote.
India’s Supreme Court struck down the section 8(4) in the Representation of Peoples Act 1951 as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court Judgment makes it mandatory for immediate disqualification of legislators upon conviction. The day of the Ordinance comes as retaliation to the judicial body to provide a safe haven for criminals. It has been found out that a substantial number of Indian lawmakers have criminal cases registered against them. The Association for Democratic Reforms, a nonprofit organization which works on governmental and electoral reforms, said in a recent press release that 1460 out of the 4807 Indian politicians who were elected to the parliament and state legislatures in the past five years have criminal cases registered against them. Only a mere 24 lawmakers have been convicted.
In an unprecedented event, President Pranab Mukherjee has asked the government to clarify the urgent need to bring an ordinance that protects convicted MPs, MLAs and MLCs from disqualification. If the Ordinance gets cleared, India will set a record for being the first to pass a bill allowing crime to enter and pass in sight. And when there is a leeway given for those who commit crimes to be let off scot free and then don the ‘respectability’ tag as people’s representatives, it is a tacit nod for saying ‘it’s ok’ for crimes to be committed. Here I cannot but wonder over the fact that if we had not been punished by our parents and teachers for the wrongs we did early on, than we would have perhaps turned out differently. If we take the analogy of a family in terms of the Government and its stance on tainted legislators, then it imperative that the head of the family, in this case the Government ensure that its children, the legislators are reined in and do not turn wayward. When we learnt of democracy, it was pegged as, “Government for the people, of the people, by the people”, and going by this, it is important not to let a mockery happen by having this particular Ordinance stay. With the Congress Vice President making the dramatic statement that the Ordinance that protects convicted MPs, MLAs from disqualification is total nonsense and asking the Government to stop the it from being cleared, there may well be some hope even as Rahul Gandhi’s statement is seen as a game changer in more ways than one.
(M.C. Linthoingambee is an undergraduate pursuing B.Com. LL.B(H). An avid blogger, poet, a seasonal artist and a foodie, she is also a life member to the Indian Society of the Red Cross.)