New Delhi: Demanding the debarring of candidates with criminal charges from contesting polls, former Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi said when elections become excessively competitive, the role of crime and money in the electoral process also increases. Quraishi was part of a panel discussion, organized on Thursday by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW), along with experts like fellow former Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi, senior journalists, and researchers. They also suggested ways to address the challenges in the wake of the changing dynamics of electoral politics in India.
Stating that the legislators continued to enjoy power despite being convicted, Quraishi said not only the convicted leaders but even those against whom criminal charges had been framed should be disqualified from contesting polls.
“There is a presumption of innocence until you are convicted. But Indian jails have over four lakh criminals, of which 70 percent are undertrials, which means they are not convicted, which also means they are innocent. Yet, you have taken away four of their fundamental rights — Right to liberty, Right to freedom of movement, Right to occupation and Right to dignity. You can take away the four fundamental rights of those who are undertrial, but you cannot debar them from contesting elections, which is not even a fundamental right,” Quraishi said.
He said the Supreme Court has asked the Parliament to make a law on the issue of debarring the criminals from contesting. “They are expecting 193 criminals MPs to pass such an Act. I think they are living in a fool’s paradise.”
On the selection and election of candidates with muscle and money power, he said when elections “become excessively competitive, the role of crime and money in the electoral process increases. Also, the easiest way for criminals to become powerful and respectable is to enter politics.”
Quraishi said, “parties say they give tickets to those who have higher chances of winning the polls. Thus, if you are a ‘sharif aadmi’ and the chance of your winnability is less, political parties will not give you a ticket. When one party fields a goon the other party goes for a bigger goon.”
Jagdeep Chhokar, ex-member, and trustee of ADR, said, till political parties ensured inner-party transparency, democracy would remain under threat and added civil society, judiciary and media must work in tandem without the interference of the executive.
According to a report from the ADR, the 17th Lok Sabha elections “were not only a resounding victory for the BJP but a victory for money and muscle power, with 43 percent (233) of elected MPs having declared criminal cases against them, an increase of 44 percent since 2009.”
It said that 88 percent (475) MPs have assets worth Rs 1 crore and more, and the average assets per winner being Rs 20.93 crore.
According to ADR analysis, “a candidate facing criminal charges had 15.5 percent chances of winning Lok Sabha 2019 elections against a 4.7 percent chance for a clean candidate. Speaking of winning based on assets, there were 21 percent chances of winning for crorepati’ candidates contesting elections against a 1 percent chance of candidates with assets below Rs 1 crore. This is the grim reality of the world’s largest elections.”
At another session on ‘Social Media, Election Expenditure and Voter Influence: Changing face of electoral politics in India’, Zaidi proposed the introduction of a robust social media policy to regulate the online behaviour of political parties and the need for statutory backing to the model code of conduct.
Shivam Shankar Singh, a Data Analyst and Campaign Consultant, said platforms were being misused for propaganda and “this starts way before the elections were announced”. Zaidi added the poll panel could not do much to regulate the propaganda on social media.
However, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, senior journalist, said the poll panel was well aware of all these but could not do much. “The EC was aware of the possible threats of untraceable campaigning on social media, but it preferred to turn a blind eye to it,” he said.
Ankit Lal, AAP Social Media, and IT Strategist said, not just social media platforms but the mobile apps were being misused to influence voters.
Pratik Sinha, Co-founder – Alt News, raised concerns over unregulated expenditure on surrogate advertising on Facebook and Twitter “given that this money doesn’t get attributed to the official expenditure of political parties”.
Ramanjit Singh Cheema, Policy Director and Senior International Counsel at Access Now, urged that political parties must reveal the identity of their IT personnel in the public domain for ensuring political accountability. (IANS)