The Supreme Court has wielded the stick in a more forceful manner this time, in a continuing effort to reduce, if not end, the sway of criminal elements in politics and public life. A 2018 order by a five-member division bench of the apex court, asking the Centre to enact a law to ban those with serious criminal records from contesting elections did not help. The Centre looked the other way. This time, hope is that the court order seeking fresh steps from the government in this direction will have a better and positive impact.

Political parties must upload on their websites details of criminal cases against poll candidates and the reasons for selecting them, the Supreme Court said today, flagging an “alarming rise in the criminalisation of politics,” in the last four national elections. As per the order this week, it would be mandatory for each party to upload on the web details of criminal background of the candidates immediately after they win the polls. Parties will also have to specify why they selected a candidate with such a criminal background. Failure to do will invite contempt of court, the apex court has warned. Notably, the apex court made a special mention of the rise in the criminalization of politics; and two, the court said merit, not winnability, should be the main criterion for selection of a candidate.

The court revisited the matter after a PIL was filed by an activist, saying the Centre flouting the earlier order of the court meant contempt.

In most cases, the criminal background of politicians relate to their alleged violent involvement in political activities, including situations of demonstrations turning violent. Almost all senior politicians face such cases from village level upwards. This might not be taken seriously, as the context is well-understood. But, there are also a substantial number of politicians facing murder charges. Their number is high in UP, Bihar etc, synonyms for lawlessness. Fact is also that they would sooner or later manage to get themselves exonerated of such charges.

At the same time, a crime that goes unnoticed and concerns most politicians across states is their serious involvement in corruption. Nothing would be on record about such activities. They are creating huge wealth for themselves over short periods of time. Bureaucrats too indulge in corruption when they see their political masters doing so without getting caught. The only difference is that the former generally avoid public display of their wealth. The Supreme Court would do well to help check such crimes in public life.

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