ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Elections : Keeping Criminals Out

 n a milieu in which it is almost second nature for the powerful to regard themselves as above the law, the firm handling of the issue of AIADMK leader Jayalalitha’s eligibility to contest next month’s election to the Tamil Nadu assembly is a matter for profound satisfaction. After it was reaffirmed on behalf of the Election Commission that the question of a candidate’s eligibility was to be determined strictly according to the commission’s 1997 instructions which specifically barred persons convicted by a court of law and sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more from contesting elections, Jayalalitha’s disqualification by the returning officers of the constituencies from where she had filed her nomination should have been a foregone conclusion. For in its 1997 order the Election Commission had specifically addressed the issue of the eligibility of those, like Jayalalitha, who had been convicted and sentenced but whose sentence had been stayed to enable them to appeal to a higher court against their conviction and decided that such persons would stand disqualified. This was necessary, in the commission’s view, to deal with the “serious problem of criminalisation of politics in which criminals, i e, persons convicted by courts of law for certain offences, are entering into fray and contesting as candidates”.

In a milieu in which it is almost second nature for the powerful to regard themselves as above the law, the firm handling of the issue of AIADMK leader Jayalalitha’s eligibility to contest next month’s election to the Tamil Nadu assembly is a matter for profound satisfaction. After it was reaffirmed on behalf of the Election Commission that the question of a candidate’s eligibility was to be determined strictly according to the commission’s 1997 instructions which specifically barred persons convicted by a court of law and sentenced to imprisonment for two years or more from contesting elections, Jayalalitha’s disqualification by the returning officers of the constituencies from where she had filed her nomination should have been a foregone conclusion. For in its 1997 order the Election Commission had specifically addressed the issue of the eligibility of those, like Jayalalitha, who had been convicted and sentenced but whose sentence had been stayed to enable them to appeal to a higher court against their conviction and decided that such persons would stand disqualified. This was necessary, in the commission’s view, to deal with the “serious problem of criminalisation of politics in which criminals, i e, persons convicted by courts of law for certain offences, are entering into fray and contesting as candidates”.

Given her past record in public life, it was entirely in character for Jayalalitha to cock a snook at the Election Commission and sally forth to contest the assembly elections by filing her nominations from as many as four constituencies – in the process displaying her contempt for the Representation of the People Act which clearly prohibits a candidate from contesting from more than two constituencies. It is a matter of gratification that she has, for the moment, got her just desserts. Criticism must really be levelled against the political parties, not just the smaller regional ones but also the Congress, the main opposition party in the national parliament, and the CPI(M) and the CPI which thought nothing of overlooking Jayalalitha’s conviction for corruption and her patent ineligibility to offer herself as a candidate in the election and have accepted her leadership in the alliance led by her and, what is more, have chosen to publicly project her as the state’s prospective chief minister should the alliance be successful in the election. Jayalalitha herself has, of course, sought to brush off her disqualification and brazenly affirmed that it makes not the slightest difference to her chief ministerial ambitions.

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