Take the broom

Having rejected court's sweeping attempts at political reform, parties must address the concerns it flagged

Even as Parliament is adjourned daily, political parties have suspended their differences and come together to reject the restrictions the courts have proposed to place on them. The Supreme Court had, in an attempt to "cleanse" politics, recently ruled that convicted legislators must give up their seats, instead of sitting through their terms while they appealed the verdict. It had also said that those in jail or in police custody could not contest elections. Now, the Centre, with near-unanimous support from all political parties, is set to amend the Representation of the People Act to neutralise those rulings. The apex court had also asked the Election Commission to consult parties on how to regulate manifesto promises to weed out "freebies". Again, most parties agreed that such curbs were not acceptable, and that it was within their remit to promise welfare giveaways to various interest groups.

Parties are right about the dangers inherent in the court or other unelected statutory bodies trying to impose order and virtue on democratic politics. Often, these attempts do stem from a reflexive suspicion of politics, a mood that has swept parts of the middle class, and an excessive cynicism about the ways parties acquire and perpetuate power. The courts should also be wary of imposing their solutions to the perceived kinks of politics, because these are often too blunt to be useful, and misunderstand the fundamental compact between voters and elected representatives. It is the electorate's call to judge whether a freebie is a demeaning attempt to bribe, for instance, or a useful social benefit. Similarly, given the weaknesses of the judicial system, it isn't always easy to equate criminality and police custody, or even conviction.

But though these parties have been quick to point to the perils of judicial overreach, they must also address the concerns the courts have flagged. The breakdown of trust in politics has something to do with the way parties have refused to regulate their own functioning, disclose financing, be more transparent about the basis for ticket allocation, or take a stand on those accused of serious crimes. Unless they introspect on their own flaws and visibly address them, they can expect more challenges in this vein, from the courts and elsewhere.

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