The Supreme Court on Tuesday said its order should have been followed as it heard contempt petitions over non-compliance of its February 2020 directions for electoral candidates to disclose criminal antecedents through wide publication.
The plea claimed these directions were not adhered during the Bihar Assembly election last year.
As counsel appearing for a political party tendered an unconditional apology, stating that this should not have happened and that there shouldn’t be criminalisation of politics, a bench of Justices R.F. Nariman and B.R. Gavai said: “We don’t buy this sorry; our orders have to be followed.”
Senior advocate Vikas Singh, representing the Election Commission, submitted that the Nationalist Congress Party fielded 26 candidates with criminal antecedents and the CPI-M had fielded four candidates with criminal antecedents.
However, the Rashtriya Janata Dal is the biggest defaulter with 103 candidates having criminal antecedents, while the Janata Dal-United had fielded 56 such candidates and the BJP 77 candidates, he said.
“All (parties) have similar answers –he is a social worker etc. When a charge sheet for rape is filed, can a political party take a stand that it is justified, or that it is a false case?”
Singh proposed freezing and suspending the election symbol in case of violation by a national party. “In spite of bringing out criminal antecedents in the public domain, criminalisation of politics has gone up,” he submitted.
Senior advocate Dinesh Dwivedi, appearing for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), submitted that the party had expelled a candidate after it learnt the candidate had failed to disclose criminal antecedents and also filed a false affidavit.
Senior advocate K.V. Viswanathan, the amicus curiae in the matter, submitted suspension (of election symbol in case of violations) can be time-bound and the idea is to evolve a deterrent.
At this, the bench asked: “Is it possible to say in case of a non-egregious violation, you suspend time-wise. In egregious violations, like with these two parties, you can say suspend till next election?”
It also asked how this will work it out for national level parties, as if “a small chap in some panchayat does something, you can’t throw the entire party out?”
As Viswanathan added that the court can lay down appropriate guidelines, and judicial review is available, the bench said: “How do you find if it has been done by the party or only the candidate?”
Senior advocate Harish Salve, also appearing for the EC, agreed with Viswanathan’s suggestion that appropriate sanctions may be imposed on the errant political parties.
“If sanction is made, let it not be Re 1, so people don’t have photos taken with Re 1 handed over and a smile on their face,” he stressed.
After detailed arguments, the top court reserved the judgment in the matter.
In the February 2020 order, the top court had noted the political parties offer no explanation as to why candidates with pending criminal cases are selected as candidates in the first place, as it passed a slew of directions for political parties to publish details and justification for choosing candidates having criminal antecedents.