Think it through
Parties must urge caution against a bar on undertrial poll candidates not yet proven guilty.
The Supreme Court has asked the government to address the proposal to bar those charged with serious offences from contesting elections. In doing so, the court brushed away the argument that a consensus is needed among political parties on the change. This comes not long after political parties, including the ruling Congress, abandoned a proposed legislation to temper the court's decision that convicted MPs and MLAs be immediately disqualified, irrespective of what stage of appeal their conviction may be at. It is, in this context, another opportunity for Parliament to articulate its position clearly as the legislative wing, not as a collective of political blocs guided by short-term gains.
The forthcoming winter session gives parties the right platform to consider the consequences, good and bad, of bars being imposed on membership of the legislature and, now, even the right to contest for it. The case against this slew of proposals is easily made. To disqualify a legislator on conviction by a lower court alone opens the possibility for motivated cases aimed at altering the political balance in the House as determined by the will of the people. It is unfortunate that political parties took fright at explaining how the now abandoned amendment was not aimed at protecting their own but ensuring an institutional balance crucial to parliamentary democracy — a balance that yields defence of our individual and collective rights. The proposed bar on persons charged with specified offences, no matter at what stage of trial the case is, is problematic on two main counts. One, it militates against the presumption of innocence till proven guilty. Two, it opens the space further for politically motivated cases in order to keep rivals out of the fray.