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Court refuses to ban India's criminal politicians

One third of lawmakers are facing criminal cases as parliament is urged to take action

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Court refuses to ban India's criminal politicians

A statue of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation who advocated non-violence and truth, stands near India's parliament building. More than 30 percent of India's elected representatives are facing criminal charges, reports say. (Photo by IANS)

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India's Supreme Court has refused to ban crime-tainted politicians from contesting elections, saying it has no power to do so, but activists want parliament to make a law to clean up politics.

The court's Sept. 25 order dismissed public interest litigation that wanted to ban politicians facing trial in criminal cases from taking part in polls. The court said it has no power to enter the domain of parliament.

But the court agreed that parliament could enact a law to keep criminals at bay and help society be governed by better people.

"We do not know how long we will have to wait to get politicians with serious criminal backgrounds out of the electoral fray," said social activist and lawyer Sister Carole Geeta, who is based in based in the northern state of Rajasthan.

Church people like her wanted urgent moves to clean up politics as reports say at least one third of members of state legislatures and the federal parliament are facing trial, most of them for serious crimes such as murder, rape and abduction.

India has 4,895 lawmakers — 4,119 in states and 776 in the upper and lower houses of national parliament — but 1,765 or 36 percent are facing criminal trial in 3,045 cases, local media reported in March quoting Law Ministry data.

The number of criminal cases against lawmakers has nearly doubled since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in New Delhi and in several northern states in 2014, data showed.

Divine Word Father Babu Joseph, a former spokesman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, said a politician facing serious criminal charges does "a disservice to society and makes a mockery of law-abiding citizens."

The petitioners approached the Supreme Court as politicians in the country were not willing to enact a law, he said.

Analysts say criminals get elected because many voters are ignorant and ill-informed but also because of sociopolitical reasons. Political parties like to have rich candidates who can fund their own campaigns, and most such people have ill-gotten wealth.

People elect candidates regardless of their crimes when they are divided on the lines of caste and religion. In situations where governments fail to dispense justice or provide basic services, people vote for the most powerful candidates, forgetting their crimes, Soutik Biswas of the BBC said in a column.

India's parliament has discussed state funding of elections and ways to clean up politics but has not succeeded in tabling a bill seeking to ban criminals from elections.

"What kind of law will you expect from a parliamentarian with a criminal background?" Father Joseph asked.

Activist Rajkumar Sinha, who is based in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh state, said the government should find a mechanism to keep criminal politicians out of the political arena.

However, Sinha applauded the Supreme Court for asking political parties to give wide publicity to the criminal antecedents of each candidate. "It is the right step as people can know who they are voting for," he told ucanews.com.

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