The current controversy over the Supreme Court (SC) judgment and the government’s Ordinance on the continuance of convicted MPs in legislatures needs to be appreciated in its proper perspective. Right now corruption is a very emotive issue. The public not surprisingly has jumped to the conclusion that the Ordinance which sought to overrule the SC judgment was part of political chicanery. But to what extent does the SC judgment or for that matter the Ordinance actually affect the prevalence of corruption in the system? Is everybody in the government, parliament and judiciary missing the wood for the trees?
Two MPs, Lalu Yadav and Rashid Masood have been unseated in parliament after being convicted in corruption cases. Their corruption was committed decades ago. Lalu Yadav has been convicted after 17 years and Masood has been convicted after 23 years of their misdemeanors. Even if neither was a sitting MP both would have enjoyed three of four terms of being in parliament before this recent conviction. What kind of fight against corruption and cleansing of parliament is that?
The existing Representation of Peoples (RP) Act was challenged by two writ petitions filed by advocate Lily Thomas and Lok Prahari, through its General Secretary S. N. Shukla. The petitioners questioned the legality of MPs continuing in parliament despite conviction by obtaining a stay order and further hearing from a higher court. The SC considered the RP Act unconstitutional and ruled that immediately after conviction the MP with a sentence of two or more years must be disqualified. The Union cabinet drafted an ordinance to neutralize the Supreme Court's order mandating immediate disqualification. The government held that if the conviction was stayed by the higher court within 90 days the elected representative should not be disqualified. But the government in its ordinance denied the convicted MP perks and voting rights till being cleared by a higher court. Only, the MP’s seat would remain occupied and there would be no by-election.
Recognizing ground realities the government considered the ease with which motivated and fraudulent prosecution and conviction could be secured from lower courts to harm even innocent politicians. Law Minister Kapil Sibal said that “everybody knows the judicial system has miserably failed to save itself from corruption charges and nepotism”. Even though the Ordinance remedy may be flawed the truth of judicial corruption cannot be denied and has indeed been voiced by Supreme Court judges and reputed jurists.
The media has gone to town attributing Rahul Gandhi’s outburst against the Ordinance as the trigger to clean up the system and check corruption and criminalization. The reality is of course that it was the President’s doubts about the legality of the Ordinance conveyed to cabinet ministers that was seized by the Congress party to enact Rahul Gandhi’s drama in order to obtain credit. The entire issue is being projected by the media and perhaps being swallowed by the public as a great fight against corruption launched by the Congress inspired by Rahul Gandhi. This is laughable. The politicians, the judiciary and the media are living in world of make believe. Consider the reality.
Two MPs, Lalu Yadav and Rashid Masood have been unseated in parliament after being convicted in corruption cases. Their corruption was committed decades ago. Lalu Yadav has been convicted after 17 years and Masood has been convicted after 23 years of their misdemeanors. Even if neither was a sitting MP both would have enjoyed three of four terms of being in parliament before this recent conviction. What kind of fight against corruption and cleansing of parliament is that? Currently there would be a dozen leading MPs involved in corruption during the Commonwealth Games and other mega scams under investigation and facing court proceedings. Will they be unseated after remaining in parliament for the next several terms and being convicted after a few decades?
The prime need is to make mandatory the completion of all court cases within six months so that speedy justice can punish the guilty. That calls for serious judicial reform. Instead of addressing that the obsession with legal nitpicking related to the RP Act through Supreme Court rulings and government Ordinances is meaningless and irrelevant. It is designed only to deceive the public into believing that corruption is genuinely being fought.