AN analysis of the affidavits filed by the candidates contesting the elections to the two Lok Sabha seats and the by-elections to the three Assembly constituencies in the state has revealed that 6 out of 28 have grave criminal cases pending against them. The Association of Democratic Rights (ADR), which carried out a check of the affidavits filed by the candidates, has pointed out various discrepancies in the information submitted by the candidates. Among the discrepancies is failure to declare the criminal cases which are pending against them and submit copies of income tax returns. It is surprising to note that the Aam Aadmi Party, which champions the cause of cleansing the electoral system of shady candidates, tops the list with three of its four nominees having criminal cases registered against them. The charges under which the cases were pending against the contestants are bouncing of cheques, sexual assault, abusing government servants and corruption.
We are unable to understand how the returning officers have accepted the nominations despite the fact that candidates filed affidavits that were haphazard and had un-numbered pages and that failed to add information or provided inadequate information. Are the papers accepted by returning officers without scrutiny? Even a cursory check would have shown the discrepancies. The returning officer should have asked the candidates to submit complete and information and in order. According to ADR, there were the serious discrepancies such as understating value of assets, providing income tax return for only one year 2017-18 and purchasing assets which were not reflected in the income tax return. Many of the papers gave incorrect information. On one hand, the Election Commission of India assures the electorate they are doing all they can to cleanse the electoral system of malpractices and misinformation in order to help the voter make a considered decision, and on the other is officials accept papers from candidates that are full of discrepancies and incorrect and inadequate information. Do the provisions in the Representation of People’s Act allow filing of affidavits with serious discrepancies and incorrect and inadequate information? The usual practice anywhere is to reject applications that have serious discrepancies and incorrect and inadequate information. The ECI should have also rejected them.
The charges faced by certain candidates are heinous. They could face sentences ranging from two years (for bouncing of cheques) to seven years (for sexual assault and corruption), which would lead to their disqualification if elected. These charges demand close scrutiny of the returning officers. The rules require a candidate facing criminal charges to publish advertisements in the media stating what cases and charges they are facing. The candidate has to publish three advertisements. The idea behind this is to help the voters make a conscious decision about candidates. If a candidate has criminal cases against him or her, the voters in the constituency which he is seeking to represent should know his antecedents. None of the candidates facing criminal charges have issued any advertisements so far. Their intention obviously is to hide their antecedents with the intention of misleading voters. The chief electoral officer must use the powers he has to force such candidates to advertise their criminal background three times before the elections. The time for compliance is running out with three days left before Goa votes.
The Election Commission of India needs to arm itself with stronger laws to deal with candidates who file incorrect information or do not advertise their criminal background. There is need to remove the weaknesses that exist in the system. Changes in the law are needed for faster disposal of criminal cases involving politicians to decriminalize politics. The law should be changed to prevent anyone being probed for offences which could lead to debarring them from being member of legislative assemblies or parliament from being eligible to contest. Entry of those facing grave charges leads to holding of fresh elections if they are convicted, for which public funds are utilized and those already spent on earlier elections go waste. Preventing people with dubious records would go a long way in cleansing the system as it would increase the number of candidates that do not face grave charges. Adequate protection should be given to politicians in terms of penalizing anyone who files totally false cases against them.