Bar Criminals From Fighting Polls: Sonia Gandhi
Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday called for a consensus among political parties on barring candidates with criminal backgrounds.
At the Election Commission's diamond jubilee celebrations, Sonia Gandhi said, "We need to do more in contending with the influence of money and muscle power...We also need to build a consensus on how to prevent individuals with a criminal record from contesting elections."
The remarks, part of a prepared speech rather than a response to questions, are significant and the Congress chief can be held to her words in case there is lack of progress on cleaning up politics where as of now a candidate convicted in a case that carries a sentence up to two years can contest polls pending appeal.
On his part, law minister Veerappa Moily assured EC that the government will look into all demands for reform and a national consultation will start from June this year. It needs to be pointed out that all his predecessors gave similar assurances without any result but a prod in the right direction from party president Sonia Gandhi may help.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh regretted that the best minds are not getting attracted to politics and referred to the lack of unanimity on how to clean the system so that people without means can contest elections too.
Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj said 60 is the age for introspection. Lauding EC for its achievements and its contribution in making India a robust democracy, Gandhi referred to the Women's Reservation Bill and regretted the lack of consensus on giving 33% reservation to women in Lok Sabha and the assemblies.
Swaraj said it is only due to EC that there has been change of power in India with ballots and not bullets. Swaraj also said the fact that even powerful politicians are scared of EC is a testimony to its credibility and fairness.
The speeches by leaders on Monday were measured and less rhetorical than usual. Uniformly praising the work of EC and calling it one of the pillars of Indian democracy, everyone from President Pratibha Patil, PM Manmohan Singh, vice-president Hamid Ansari, Sonia Gandhi and Sushma Swaraj advised EC to take stronger corrective measures to improve quality of the polity.
The inaugural function that saw political adversaries sharing the same space -- Mamata Banerjee and Prakash Karat, Jayalalithaa listening to DMK's A Raja and Sushma Swaraj on the same dais as Sonia Gandhi -- was inaugurated by the President. The President said impediments, lacunae and malpractices in elections would have to be removed to make Indian democracy cleaner, healthier and stronger.
The vice-president was most forthcoming, emphasising three big challenges for Indian democracy. "Six decades on, a fair verdict would be that the glass is neither empty nor full but well above the half way mark," he said. While the country has traversed a long distance in providing a constitutional basis for local government, real empowerment and participatory governance at the third tier is still "work in progress".
Then, despite efforts, unaccounted election expenses constitute the major expenditure of political parties and candidates. "These relate to distribution of freebies, liquor and cash during elections, the phenomenon of surrogate advertisements and the extensive media related malpractice of `paid news' and `coverage packages'," he said.
Lastly he said, "The challenge for the political parties now is to bring about substantive organisational democracy." "Each of these is a blot on the democratic process and on the objective of free and fair elections. Corrective action by the EC and our political parties is imperative," Ansari said.