By Anusha Sundar:
‘…a Constitution, like a machine, is a lifeless thing. It acquires life because of the men who control it and operate it, and India needs today nothing more than a set of honest men who will have the interest of the country before them…We have communal differences, caste differences, language differences, provincial differences and so forth. It requires men of strong character, men of vision, men who will not sacrifice the interests of the country at large for the sake of smaller groups and areas and who will rise over the prejudices which are born of these differences.’
On the 26th of November 1949, in his speech as the President of the Constituent Assembly, Mr. Rajendra Prasad spoke these very profound lines. Profound, because they sensed the need for the kind of people that India required direly at that point of time and later. However, this speech stands today, merely as a text that students of the History and Political Science discipline decipher and dissect as a part of their analysis of the shifting course of the Indian Democracy. Governments have sidelined it to sections of the National Museum, the elected representatives pay no heed to their responsibilities and the citizens of the country are too busy to hold negligent behaviour accountable. The result is a rampant increase in the number of illegal entries into the Parliament and the almost non-existent consequences do little to keep this astoundingly deceitful practice in check.
Stories of MPs filing fake nomination papers or attaching false affidavits flooding the morning newspapers is such a common sight that we often don’t bother to look into it. But here is why we need to ascertain our rights as well as our duties as the citizen of the country – an elector has the right to make an informed decision regarding who he/she wished to represent his/her interests and needs in the State Assemblies or the Parliament. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that correct information is made available to the people of the Constituency. Instead, thousands of MPs make a smooth entry into the Parliament by citing false affidavits.
The Article 102 of the Indian Constitution lists out several disqualifications for the members of the Parliament if they are holding any office of profit, are of unsound mind, are convicted of any criminal activities, have committed electoral offences etc. The concept of submitting an affidavit containing information regarding the candidate’s personal assets, educational qualifications and criminal convictions was conceived as proof of their qualification or disqualification. Failure to submit the affidavit, concealment or providing false information is considered an offense under Section 125(A) of the Representation of the People Act (1951). Yet, 18% of the candidates contesting National elections have criminal cases pending against them and most often, and unsurprisingly enough, they are concealed from public view. Unfortunately, the sentence for this crime is imprisonment for a period of six months or payment of a fine. Therefore, filing false affidavits does not disqualify candidates.
Mr. Soli J. Sorabjee, former Attorney General, rightly commented on the gravity of the situation and its ‘direct bearing on the purity of elections.’ He stressed on the need for an immediate response from the Supreme Court of India and demanded that the submission of false affidavits be made grounds for electoral disqualification. Mr. Sorabjees’s inputs are extremely vital not only because they recognize the fault in the system that allows illegality to flourish, but also because they offer a substantial redressal that will mend it. Faster and stringent measures need to be employed in order to curb this activity. The Election Commission, in its suggestions to the Justice Verma Committee, reasoned for imprisonment up to two years and a removal of the option of a fine payment as a reprisal against an extensive increase in the usage of false affidavits.
A Democracy, in its very principle, functions on the responsibility and reciprocity of the elected representatives. To deceive the citizens and the constituency is not only shameful but also invalidates the democratic structure of the governance. The onus is on the Supreme Court and the Government of India to take severe measures in order to curb this unlawful and dishonest practice.