Ethics and Politics
Any discussion on an ethical framework for governance in a democracy must necessarily begin with ethical values in politics. Politics and those engaged in it, play a vital role in the legislative and executive wings of the State whose acts of commission and omission in working the Constitution and the rule of law become the point of intervention for the judiciary. While it is unrealistic and simplistic to expect perfection in politics in an ethically imperfect environment, there is no denying the fact that the standards set in politics profoundly influence those in other aspects of governance. Those in politics have a clear and onerous responsibility. India was fortunate that high standards of ethical conduct were an integral part of the freedom struggle. Unfortunately, ethical capital started getting eroded after the transfer of power. Excesses in elections (in campaign-funding, use of illegitimate money, quantum of expenditure, imperfect electoral rolls, impersonation, booth-capturing, violence, inducements and intimidation), floor-crossing after elections to get into power and abuse of power in public office became major afflictions of the political process over the years. Political parties, governments and more importantly the Election Commission and the Supreme Court have taken several steps since the late 1980s in an attempt to eliminate the gross abuses that had virtually become the norm.Yet, there is a widespread view that much more needs to be done to cleanse our political system. Along with that of corruption, this issue was raised in every public hearing held by the Commission during its visits to the States.
Criminalization of politics – ‘participation of criminals in the electoral process’ – is the soft underbelly of our political system. The growth of crime and violence in society (to the point of encouraging ‘mafia’ in many sectors) is due to a number of root causes. Flagrant violation of laws, poor quality of services and the corruption in them, protection for law-breakers on political, group, class, communal or caste grounds, partisan interference in investigation of crimes and poor prosecution of cases, inordinate delays lasting over years and high costs in the judicial process, mass withdrawal of cases, indiscriminate grant of parole, etc., are the more important of the causes. The Commission will deal with these issues in detail in its ensuing Report on Public Order. It only needs to be stated here that, in this situation, the criminal who, paradoxically, is able to ensure speedy justice in some cases becomes almost a “welcome character”! On his part, the criminal builds on this “acceptance” and is emboldened to enter politics and elections. The opportunity to influence crime investigations and to convert the policemen from being potential adversaries to allies is the irresistible magnet drawing criminals topolitics. The elected position and the substantial protection that it can give, helps him either to further and expand his activities or to evolve into an entity with higher political ambitions. As for political parties, such individuals bring into the electoral process, their ability to secure votes through use of money and muscle power.
This is a short-term win-win situation for all, except for public good and good governance. All this has not taken place everywhere, but to the extent that it did, it led to a situation when the Election Commission formally stated that one in six legislators in India faced grave criminal charges. It was then time for urgent corrective steps.