If we have criminals in Parliament, we will have criminals on the streets

On Thursday 22 August, a young journalist was brutally gang raped in Lower Parel, Mumbai.

On the same day, the Union Cabinet of India, cleared a proposal to amend the Representation of People’s Act (RPA), in order to negate a recent landmark Supreme Court judgement, that disqualified legislators convicted of crimes.

The correlation between the two events, is a tragic reflection of the situation that India finds itself in today.

The proposed amendment to the RPA deserves a brief explanation.

On July 10, 2013, the Supreme Court of India, in response to a Public Interest Litigation, gave an eminently sensible judgement, ruling that Section 8(4) of the RPA would be set aside. The RPA states that a convicted criminal cannot stand for elections.

However, as per Section 8(4), if a sitting MP or MLA is convicted while in office, then they will have 3 months from the date of such conviction, to file an appeal. Until the appeal is decided, no action will be taken to disqualify them, until the appeal is disposed. Unfortunately in India, given the speed of the judicial process, a convicted criminal can remain in office for several years while the appeal is being considered.

The Supreme Court ruled, that this Section went against the intention of the founding fathers of the nation and the spirit of our constitution, which was to debar criminals. In the view of the Supreme Court, if a sitting legislator felt he was being unfairly prosecuted, he could seek protection by staying the conviction; however a blanket protective clause, as provided by Section 8(4) was ultra vires.

As a consequence of the 10 July judgement, Section 8(4) was struck down with immediate effect. Any legislator who is henceforth convicted of a crime attracting a sentence of more than two years, will be immediately disqualified, his seat declared vacant, and he will be debarred for the next 6 years from contesting for elections. The Supreme Court also ruled that anyone in police or judicial custody (i.e. in jail) would be debarred from standing for elections.

Given that 30%* of our MP’s & MLA’s have criminal cases against them, this ruling was greeted with relief by citizens across the country.

(Source *: Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) statistics: 162 MP’s in the present Lok Sabha, 40 MP’s in the Rajya Sabha and 1258 sitting MLA’s, have self-declared criminal cases pending against them.)

Unfortunately, the reaction of all major political parties to the judgement was very negative. Perhaps because, in our political system, we have come to believe, that candidates with criminal cases against them, have a better chance of being elected, or that their criminal record does not matter to the voters.

ADR statistics show that political parties, shockingly gave tickets to 74% of candidates with criminal records, for a second time, despite having information on their criminal background from a previous election.

MP’s (who have otherwise been unable to agree on any matter of national importance in the past 4 years) gathered to protest the Supreme Court judgement, at an all-party meet on Aug 1. The Indian press reported an extra-ordinary show of solidarity, as leaders of various parties, cutting across party lines, asked for amendments that would overturn the apex court’s ruling, on the grounds that it challenged the supremacy of Parliament.

The Cabinet proposal to amend the RPA, was then swiftly moved forward – ironically, and tragically for India, on the very same date as the Shakti Mills gang-rape.

What does this mean for us ?

A week ago, a highly educated young man who had studied at an Ivy League Business school in the USA was discussing politics with me. He argued passionately in favour of a certain national political leader of a certain national political party both of which shall go unnamed.

India is at a tipping point” he said, “and a fractured mandate is dangerous for our country. Every vote that goes to the xxx symbol is a vote for xxx.” However, when I sought to discuss the credentials of the local candidate in his constituency, he dismissed this saying “It does not matter who the local candidate is – he could be a rapist for all I care”

This then, is where we find ourselves. As the grief and rage over heinous attacks on innocent women like Nirbhaya and the young photo-journalist mount, it is worth reflecting on how we reached this point.

It is self-evident that :

If we have criminals in Parliament, then we will have criminals on the street.

– If the law-maker is a law-breaker, and makes laws to protect himself, then the citizen has no protection.

If Police reforms that will empower the police force to serve citizens, rather than politicians, have still not been implemented, despite repeated strictures by the Supreme Court since 2006, then the citizen has no hope.

Is there a solution ?

I believe there is. Clearly we can send the right message to political parties in the next election, by voting for candidates without a criminal record.

However, social media gives us the opportunity, to send them that message today.

With 78 million Indians on Face book, 20 million on Twitter and 22 million on LinkedIn, we have a voice. We also have the means of instantaneously and effortlessly, reaching senior leaders in the major parties, each of whom sees social media as an important tool of communicating with us.

So let’s send them the message :

We do not want criminals in Parliament – so there should be NO amendments to the RPA !


43 thoughts on “If we have criminals in Parliament, we will have criminals on the streets

  1. Pingback: Why still “NO” to NOTA (49 O) in election as an option to vote? | Propel Steps

    • Many thanks Kishalay – and thank you for sharing your insightful piece in newslaundry on the template for media coverage.

      There is much to be said for self imposed rues of conduct for reporting – and not just in respect of violence against women

  2. Ms Meera Sanyal,
    It is my pleasure to read your very aptly put thoughts on the matter of shame of India.
    I have been trying to reach the millions you refer on FB almost daily and I must sadly admit that barring few most of the people are afraid to use this powerful tool to awaken their dead CONSCIENCE (ZAMEER) of we Indians.
    We not only tolerate but hate to even speak for the right and against the wrong for fear of being hauled out of our comfort zones and dragged to the courts of the criminals.
    My anguish is Nanak may not come again to revive us out of our self inflicted slavery to the bully who is now occupying the seats of power in our August body – the Parliament. Hope you read my views on the FB also.

    • Dear Mr Singh,

      Thank you for your feedback.

      As you correctly point out, the challenge is to get everyone around us to constructively challenge and engage with the political process.

      Please don’t give up !

  3. While I agree and appreciate what all you have written so nicely and correctly, I can not help remarking that only criminals have enough wealth to splurge in elections and nothing wins like money in the elections!! People with high morals and enough wealth are exceptions. Since most of the votes in the vote bank are concentrated in the hands of the poor, nobody will win if votes are cast based on moral grounds!! Nobody wants the votes of the middle and upper clause as their percentage is very low. Hence only the rich criminals stand a better chance and each one of us will be mute spectators as we were always! God help India!

    • Dear Srinivasan,

      I believe things are changing. Both in our expectations of what we expect from our elected representatives and how we like to engage with them.

      Increasingly, being categorised as “voters who talk and don’t vote” and ” voters who vote for cash” is too simplistic and probably no longer true.

      However time will tell ! Either way 2014 will be a crucial election for the future of India

  4. Moghuls and Britishers and other invaders probably looted our country less than what most of our current crop of criminals have done. It is time as others have pointed out for the aam aadmi to rise and get the system in place. However, looking at the Middle East recent experience where people took to the streets, the situation only got worse.

    So I pray and hope that people in power start thinking about the country before themselves and rectify the situation before it gets any worse.

    One solution is what you have done – people have to come forward rather than just talking in their living rooms, do something about it.

    All the best to you!!

    • Many thanks Rajiv – your point is well made.

      We cannot afford the anarchy of a revolution but we do need the growing Indian middle class to express their views constructively. This can and should be done during elections through the ballot but between elections we can do so by communicating with our elected representatives.

      Snail mail and telephone calls are very effective – and social media offers the opportunity to communicate painlessly at no cost.

      To quote Nike – Lets Just do it !

  5. What about the large mass of Indians in villages.. Who don’t have access to social media?You have suggested using social media as a means to create a mass movement. Most of the people are coerced , bribed with false promises… What is your solution / suggestion in reaching out and making them aware? For the larger percentage of vote comes from there ….

    • Dear Gayatri last year I spent over 4 months in the villages. They are politically very aware of the issues we are all grappling with. They have compulsions that drive them to vote a certain way – but at least they go out and vote…

  6. I agree that corruption and criminalization of a system go hand in hand!There maybe laws and amendments and we have even amended the constitution!!!when it suited the powers that be. We are as a country are at that deep end!The 2014 election can bring about change I have little doubt but those like you Meera who have entered the political arena I say Kudos to first but it is necessary to work from the start at the root causes.
    Now I’ve been doing human rights work not rabid about it!!! but starting with child participation I have seen how democracy has stifled participation and in India it starts from children. Family values are eroded,Schools are resorting to making children consumer hungry not learning hungry!! and the malaise is linked to money and power. With power comes money and its the root of all evil. I have seen how my own children brought up in a service tradition with familial roots joined corporates since they saw the parents struggle! and got little for honesty and hard work so our system will have criminals as honest people or whistle blowers threaten the mega power probably hard won with conscience killed!

    It is unfortunate that we have scant regard for sensible laws as we are great at following laws of the jungle now. No street is safe,and no regard for human life-each for his or her own the rest be damned. Money is the end…not the means only to an end!!!

    In such a state of affairs those who have to implement law want no laws they don’t need it or can buy it! that stop them from amassing more wealth so as citizens we have to voice dissent for such people whether criminals or not we don’t know why they sold their souls and are still free Can each of us be judgemental?-the only way would be to meet our representatives before elections and then vote with discretion or vote those entrenched already out! Not easy but possible.

    Goa did it in the last election and women spearheaded the voting out of criminal politicos! so we have to forget about trying to put back what manipulators called legislators do with laws and just bring in awareness. If we know a particular person has a criminal record tell the people fearlessly and get them out through the vote.Only way to right every wrong!!!! yell from the rooftops about the corrupt and criminal and never have record on your own head of dishonesty or money laundering etc etc at any time have a with a clear conscience first or they will nail you and fight the evil forces fearlessly or else the price each of us who want honesty and equality are made to pay is no less then life!
    Thanks. Anita.

  7. There was a good reason to permit candidates with a criminal record at the time of Independence, because many freedom fighters had done jail time, or had a criminal record. Disallowing them would have enfeebled India.

    But today, candidates with a criminal record aren’t necessarily freedom fighters – the crimes of which they have been accused are real crimes, some even grave. The court did right; it is interesting that this is one of the few issues on which the MPs cut across party lines to come together. There’s honour among thieves, as wags would say.

    Perhaps a law can be drafted that those arrested for political reasons can be exempt, but all others accused of violent crimes, should not be. There is still the problem, of investigative failure or trumped-up, political charges. And the language can be nuanced. That’s the only sensible way.

      • Judicial activism is an often quoted charge by politicos , whenever cornered.Kudos to the Judiciary, which has by and large performed its role as a pillar of democracy.

  8. I think its important for every cabinet meeting to be minuted. I’m not sure but I think it already happens. Can we access via RTI what happened in the cabinet meeting which gave a nod to RPA Amendment approval? Would you know.

    I’m just not sure if its allowed. If it is I would be more than willing to follow this up.

    • To be honest, I have no idea if Cabinet meetings are subject to RTI requests.

      However, in this instance, all parties were quite open about their views on why the Supreme Court judgement should be over ruled. This is what we need to protest against.

      • True, but Ma’am, why I talk of the minutes is that it brings out in the open ‘the rationale’ behind their decision.

        The problem is we only come to know about their ‘decisions’ to support or not support an act.

        In this case also we ‘believe’ the rationale is that their colleagues are in jail or convicts, hence they cannot afford to support the SC. But this is something, we, an outsider believe and have no proof of. Even if a minister or a MP openly accept that they want RPA amendment to support their convict friends, its brushed aside.

        We somehow need this in writing from them, and if we can nail it from the minutes of the meetings, that this is exactly what they want, then it’ll spread like fire.

  9. Simply put, in order to ensure the armchair practitioners amongst the social media, an effort on a war front should be embarked to ensure most of us (if not all) are registered as voters.They can effectively lead to decriminalisation of politics. (State funding etc are other means to limit the importance of money in elections)

    The Election Commission should Mandatorily put the credentials of all contestants, at prominent and visible places outside the polling booth. (Like the statutory warnings on a cigarette pack !). This since it is unlikely for our lawmakers to implement the landmark ruling by the SC. (They’ll keep amending it)

    Ultimately the more we involve the common people in voting ( My preference is compulsory voting), less are the chances of people with questionable credentials to make it to the parliament.

    Does it altogether obviate the problem ? The answer is no. Haven’t we heard of proxy chief ministers ( Laloo and Rabri). However things would be a lot better, once instead of 35 % voting ( part of it fake voting), we achieve 80% – 90% genuine voting.


    • Problem is not the %age of votes polled but first-past-the-post system. In 2011 election of Assam Assembly only 40 candidates won by clear majority remaining 86 seats were won by person getting lesser votes whereas average voting was about 80%.

      In Mankachar constituency polling was 90.83 percent but the person who received 64639 votes won the election where as 78307 voters lost the election. There are many examples.

      • There are 1.22 crores bogus voters in Delhi as per media. 14 lakhs has been so far removed. Good that we all should be registered but it is not enough. We got to see that bogus voters are not their.

      • Is there any forum / organisation doing work in this area ( voter regn, removal of bogus voters, filing petitions or PILs etc). Happy to add my bit there.

      • Should you be in South Mumbai we would be delighted for you to join our team – as this is what we are focused on.

        Elsewhere, there is a great organisation called Haiyya doing excellent work on exactly this space

      • I work at Lower Parel and stay at Andheri. Would certainly like to contribute. Thanks. Shashank

  10. Dear Ms Meera Sanyal Ji,

    Thanks for thought provoking blog. But after going through the contents I still feel we are just complicating the problem without giving any solution. When supreme court gave its decision, I was against it. Reason is simple; it will complicate the problem further. And the solution which the amendment is bringing in is further complicating it by saying that the member will not loose the membership but will be debarred from voting. It means the supreme court as well as the parliament is considering the membership as the membership of a club and not that of a parliament. Membership of a club is a private affair and is the personal fiefdom of the member but parliament membership is a public assignment. If the member is not allowed to vote that means the public is denied their voice. Public has to have their voice heard. That is why I called that we are complicating the problem.

    If that is the case then what do we do? We have to take a holistic view of our problems and then find solutions. What you or 99.9% people are talking about is the symptoms/manifestations of the problems. We are not talking about the problem. The day we identify the problem, finding solutions will be easy.

    You would ask then what is the problem? The problem is our system which we hold in very high esteem and always shy away from talking about. We don’t want to catch the bull by its horns but all are clinging to its tail. Let us not ridicule these people who are finest of men and women but are facing the same trouble. But they are selfish to the extent that they know that if they fight for correct system they will be nowhere.

    “In its making is its undoing”. This phrase refers to the making of Indian Republic. In this so called Parliamentary Republic there is no parliament worth the name. Parliament is one of the step in so called government formation. I called it so called because government includes all three branches; Legislature, Executive, and Judiciary. It has no independence. The independence of the legislature (parliament) has been trampled upon by executive which we erroneous call government against the constitutional provisions.

    There is no effective separation of powers of working of Parliament (legislature) and Government (Executive) which makes the executive more powerful than any other branch. Laws are legislated in Ministries, approved in cabinet and brought to parliament just for formality of having the law passed in parliament. Whips are issued. No member dare go against the party line. There cases of corruption will be opened. They have to support the government of the day. So when we say that criminals are in parliament; it is because these criminals serve two purposes (a) They can win the election more comfortably by use of muscle power and (b) they are easy to manage. You need these people because because majority is required in the Lok Sabha atleast.

    Since these politicians have legislative as well as executive powers being in government, they become more powerful. And as saying goes,”power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. So they are corrupt not because they want to corrupt but it the demand from the system else will become unstable.

    Now let us discuss the manifestations which need correction:

    1. Corruption must reduce if not totally eliminated.
    2. Our Parliament function properly.
    3. There should not be a criminal in parliament.
    4. Laws should be made by parliament and not by executive department which often copy paste them from other countries.
    5. All types of crime should be dealt firmly and speedily.
    6. There should be jobs for teaming millions.
    7. Black money
    8. Etc. etc. etc ……………………… you can name any number.

    Solutions: Restore the dignity of parliament. This can be achieved by effectively segregating the legislature from executive. That means no member of the parliament should be made minister or chairman of any boards or corporation. If someone has to appointed to such post he/she must resign from parliament. The job of the parliament should be just to make laws and supervise through various committees whether they are properly implemented or not. If not hold the person accountable and remove him/her from the office either by impeachment or by directing the executive authority to do that. This possible only in Presidential Democracy without a Prime Minister like that USA. For more details please go through sainiksamajparty.com; the website is still under development.

    Comments are becoming longer that the original post. We shall discuss further if you are somewhat convinced of it. No other way to correct the malise. I can be contacted at bvsparmar@yahoo.com or +919411891851.

    With warm regards,
    Balbir Singh Parmar

    • Dear Parmar Ji

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      Indeed there is much merit in the concept of a Presidential form of Government . However do you feel it is realistic to expect that our current Parliamentarians will enable this to happen ?

      • Ruling class never gives anything to the public until and unless demanded by the public. It is the public pressure which has always brought pressure. We the thinking people must build this pressure. Public is ready to follow. You have to decide: “Whether to be or not to be”.

        Some of us are already on this mission. If you wish to join band wagon, most welcome. More the merrier. Together we shall succeed.


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