‘Piecemeal approach’

Print edition : November 01, 2013

THE Left parties have maintained that any amendment to any Act legislated by Parliament should go through the parliamentary procedure. In a statement issued recently, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) pointed out that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was repeatedly using the ordinance route without as much as a debate in Parliament. While welcoming the Supreme Court’s order to include a “None of the Above” (NOTA) option in the electronic voting machines, the party felt this was a minor aspect of electoral reforms. The Left parties have always argued for comprehensive electoral reforms. It said urgent steps were needed to curb the influence of money and muscle power in elections, the modalities of which should be discussed and endorsed by Parliament.

The CPI (M) Polit Bureau discussed the implications of the two recent Supreme Court judgments. It concluded that the ruling in Chief Election Commissioner vs Jan Chaukidar that a person who is in jail or in police custody cannot contest elections would infringe on the democratic rights of a citizen. It would deprive an undertrial or a person in police custody of the right to contest elections.

“A number of false cases are foisted on political activists. There are lakhs of undertrials languishing in jails unjustly deprived of their basic liberties given the inefficiency and bias of the legal-judicial system. The judgment can lead to large-scale misuse. Ruling parties and governments can get people behind bars in order to prevent them from contesting elections. It is a case of judicial overreach and requires to be overturned,” the statement said. Likewise, it was critical of the earlier judgment (in Lily Thomas vs Union of India) by the same Bench calling for the immediate disqualification of an MP or an MLA on being convicted of an offence. The court struck down Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act (RPA) which allows a convicted member to continue in office for a three-month period in order to file an appeal in a higher court and to get a stay on the conviction and the sentence.

“The verdict that Section 8(4) is ultra vires the Constitution poses certain problems. Given the present state of the judicial system, conviction by a trial court is often set aside by a higher court on appeal. If a member is disqualified instantly and gets an acquittal later by a higher court, there will be no scope for redressal. The judgment needs to be clarified by a review,” it said.

S. Ramachandran Pillai, Polit Bureau member, told Frontline that the present situation was an outcome of the omissions and commissions of the Congress-led UPA government. The ordinance was clearly brought in to protect two persons belonging to the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), including its president Lalu Prasad, and one from the Congress. “The Bill was pending with the Parliamentary Standing Committee. An all-party meeting had also discussed the implications of the court orders and people had expressed their views. Where was the need for an ordinance?” he said. The utterances by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi caused further confusion, he said. There was additionally some confusion about the meaning of criminalisation of politics. “There is no demarcation between various crimes. Suppose we organise a demonstration or the peasantry demands distribution of surplus land or there is a rally to resist eviction, violating prohibitory orders, our people will be arrested, maybe convicted and branded as criminals. Many of our comrades have got convicted, will get convicted and permanently lose the chance to contest. or get disqualified. This has to be discussed. It is a serious issue,” he said. He also pointed out that the delay in pronouncing judgments was another serious issue. “If cases are disposed of within one to two years and if those persons are convicted, there is no question of a corrupt person becoming a Minister,” he said, adding that a piecemeal approach to these issues will not solve the problem.

“Suppose a subordinate judge passes an order convicting an innocent man, the latter’s right should be protected. That is why the recourse to appeal is there,” he said. “The use of religion and caste is also another big problem. That is why we proposed the system of proportional representation where it would be possible for political parties to approach the people on the basis of policies, not caste or religion,” he said.

Ramachandran Pillai said the CPI(M) welcomed the NOTA option, but its implications had to be discussed. “Suppose in a constituency there are 20 candidates and more than half of the voters say none of the above, a person with 20 per cent of votes under the first-past-the-post system will get elected to represent the entire electorate. What the majority feel will not matter,” he said.

D. Raja, Member of Parliament belonging to the Communist Party of India, told Frontline that any amendment to the RPA to change, replace or strengthen it, was within the domain of Parliament. “That is precisely why a Bill was introduced and referred to the Standing Committee. The government should have waited for the deliberations of the Standing Committee but instead it rushed through with the ordinance,” he said. The issue of criminalisation of politics was a serious one, and the Left parties had been raising the issue of “politicisation of criminals” and “criminalisation of politics”, he pointed out.

T.K. Rajalakshmi





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