The Supreme Court on 13 February 2020 put political parties on a tight leash by ordering them to publish the criminal history of their candidates for Assembly and Lok Sabha polls, along with reasons that goaded them to choose those with criminal antecedents over decent people, within 48 hours of the selection of the candidates. A Bench led by Justices Rohinton F. Nariman ordered political parties to publish the criminal antecedents of their candidates in local and national newspapers and on their social media handles. Following this, the parties would have to file compliance reports with the Election Commission of India (ECI) or face contempt action.
  1. The judgment signified the court’s alarm over the unimpeded rise in the accommodation of criminals, often facing heinous charges like rape and murder, in the political arena. 
  2. It is based on a proposition made by the ECI to ask parties not to give tickets to persons with criminal antecedents for contesting elections.
  3. The ECI has said 46% of Members of Parliament have criminal records. The Supreme Court’s long string of judgments against criminalisation of politics have hardly scratched the surface of the deep rot.
  4. Justice Nariman, speaking for the Bench in the judgment, said a move to steer politics away from the denizens of the criminal world would definitely serve national and public interest.
  5. The apex court had earlier observed that the issue of penalising political parties or candidates for not disclosing criminal antecedents has to be dealt with carefully as serious allegations with “political overtones” are often being made against candidates.
  6. In September 2018, a five-judge Constitution bench had unanimously held that all candidates will have to declare their criminal antecedents to the Election Commission before contesting polls and called for a wider publicity, through print and electronic media about antecedents of candidates.
  7. It had left it to Parliament to “cure the malignancy” of criminalisation of politics by making a law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter the political arena as the “polluted stream of politics” needs to be cleansed. 
  8. During the hearing on the contempt plea, the EC had told the court that increase in number of MPs having pending criminal cases was “disturbing” and as per the statistics, there were 43 per cent MPs in Parliament who have criminal cases against them.
  9. The poll panel had agreed with the suggestions of senior lawyer Gopal Sankaranarayanan, representing BJP leader and petitioner Ashiwini Upadhyay, including that all political parties should mandatorily upload on their website details of candidates with criminal antecedents, along with the reasons as to why those without any criminal record could not be selected.
  10. The Election Commission has also agreed with the suggestion that political parties may be asked to furnish details on its website regarding criminal antecedents of candidates and give reasons as to why he or she has been given the ticket.
  11. On October 10, 2018, the EC had issued notification regarding the amended Form-26 and directions to political parties and candidates for publication of criminal antecedents. 
  12. However, the plea filed by Upadhyay alleged that the EC neither amended the Election Symbol Order, 1968 nor the model code of conduct (MCC) so the said notification has no legal sanction.
Contempt plea
  1. on 13 February 2020 verdict is sourced from a contempt petition filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay seeking action against the authorities and parties for not complying fully with a September 2018 judgment by a Constitution Bench that had directed parties to publish online the pending criminal cases of their election candidates.
  2. The 2018 judgment had urged Parliament to bring a “strong law” to cleanse parties of leaders facing trial for serious crimes. 
  3. Two years ago, a five-judge Bench led by the then Chief Justice Dipak Misra had concluded that rapid criminalisation of politics could not be stopped by merely disqualifying tainted legislators but should begin by “cleansing” political parties. 
  4. It had even then issued guidelines, including that both the candidate and the party should declare the criminal antecedents of the former in widely circulated newspapers.