Government doesn’t want criminal politicians banned: poll panel member

August 6th, 2008 - 5:38 pm ICT by IANS  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, Aug 6 (IANS) Criminals who keep winning elections are causing the Indian government to have second thoughts about banning them from contesting polls, the country’s election commissioner said. In frank remarks made ahead of the next general election, Shahabuddin Yaqoob Quraishi accused the government of “dragging its feet” on long-standing demands for such a ban and said such prevarication had forced the Election Commission of India to bring in alternative “extra-legal devices” to stop criminals.

“We have been proposing some electoral reforms for a few years but the government is dragging its feet. But we keep on pursuing with them, hoping that some day at least some of these things will happen,” Quraishi told an audience at the Nehru Centre here Tuesday night.

Quraishi said one reason for the government’s reluctance to bring about such legislation is politics.

“We would like criminals to be debarred but for that there has to be an act but government refuses to pass the act. Every political party has a lot of criminal candidates and every political party has a lot of winning criminal candidates, so they don’t want to pass the law,” he said.

In the absence of a law, the commission has made it compulsory for candidates to provide their full history - including details of criminal records - at the time of filing nomination.

“Then we put it up on the website - there are a couple of organisations who work closely with us - and let people see. But how many people in India actually will be seeing the website?”

“We need to do a lot more to ensure that criminals cannot enter politics,” he said.

Another step, which he described as an “extra-legal device”, is to get a police jeep to follow criminals around with a video tape, recording their every move.

“So this fellow (the criminal candidate) has to keep looking over his shoulders all the time. Two days he did it, the third day he bolted - because all this will be used against him at the time of election petitions,” Quraishi said.

The poll panel member said his office’s “zero tolerance” toward criminals was beginning to have an impact on the ground - in Uttar Pradesh alone, the number of winning criminals had fallen steeply from 210 in the 2004 parliamentary election to 100 in 2007.

“We feel people’s participation is the only way - that is when the voters exercise their right to defeat such candidates - until the government of the day comes up with the law which debars such candidates,” he said.

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