I would like to write about our Parliament and its members. I don’t want to add to the commentary on the sad spectacle we saw in the two-day special session. I want to comment on Abhishek Manu Singhvi’s comments in a TV interview I saw on Tuesday and all that it implies.
The anchor asked Singhvi about the 120 parliamentarians who had criminal records. What Singhvi said indicated that he thought the matter was not so serious because only 50-odd parliamentarians with criminal records had been either convicted in serious matters such as rape, murder or kidnapping or had such matters pending in courts against them. The others were all not so bad as they merely had matters such as rioting, protests, etc., against them. He appeared rather unperturbed at this number of hard-core criminals in Parliament.
I do not blame him alone for this attitude. If we were to discuss the matter with most party leaders in Parliament, perhaps their attitude would be equally blasé.
Let us assume, for the moment, that Singhvi is correct in his assessment and we have “only” about 50 hard-core criminals who are our elected representatives with the power to make laws for you and me. Imagine that — 10% of our lawmakers are hard-core law-breakers and another 15% are “soft-core” lawbreakers. A quarter of the people in our Parliament who have taken the oath to uphold our laws and abide by the Constitution appear to have started their parliamentary term with a lie — they have broken their oath before taking it and, yet, they continue in our highest law-making body. All political parties are guilty for this travesty of justice.
Our Constitution was framed in simple times. Those who drafted it could not have envisaged a time when people who had been convicted for heinous crimes would sit in Parliament. They would probably not even believe that parliamentarians convicted to jail terms and who are actually in prison would be transported to vote in Parliament.
All right-thinking citizens must consider what they can do about this sorry state of affairs which makes a mockery of our law-making process. The law should provide that if any MP is convicted to a jail term by a court, he should be removed from Parliament regardless of pending appeals. He is in prison to answer for his crimes after conviction. Why should we give him the right to vote in Parliament? Yes, his appeal may be pending and it may take years to be decided. However, those who make our laws should, like Caesar’s wife, be entirely above suspicion. If they have been convicted by a court after consideration of evidence against them, they have lost their right to be considered innocent till the decision of the appeals court. If the appeals court decides in their favour, let them resume their seat in Parliament.
Nor should anyone so convicted be permitted to stand for elections. We must, obviously, guard against victimization of innocent MPs through the filing of motivated police complaints. In such cases, there should be fast-track courts that would give a decision within a limited period, say a month. Such disposal of cases should go all the way to the Supreme Court so appeals filed by such criminal politicians can be decided expeditiously and justice done to them.
We need to amend the Constitution appropriately to remove the cancer of lawbreaking lawmakers that afflicts our politics.
Kishore Asthana, earlier with Tata Administrative Services, is a management consultant and convener of Mensa, Delhi/NCR. Comment at email@example.com