The Supreme Court’s order of August 10 telling states to take their respective High Courts’ approval to withdraw cases against legislators with a criminal record may not rid politics of rogue elements. Neither this order nor the one directing political parties to publish criminal cases of their candidates within 48 hours will stop parties from fielding criminals. This is because naming and shaming are viewed as an advantage by the wrong candidates in UP.
The Samajwadi Party, for instance, cannot be too choosy if it is aiming to win majority seats. The “winnability” criteria will get a mafia a party ticket irrespective of the number of criminal cases listed against him. Out of the party’s present 47 MLAs, 14 have criminal antecedents. And though it is early to predict how many of these 14 MLAs will get the ticket one can safely assume that if they are dropped, their replacements are likely to be another set of bahubalis.
The BJP will use the same yardstick when its top leaders sit down to select “jitaau” (winnable) candidates. The party has the highest number of tainted legislators — 114 — in the 403-member House. Will it risk dropping its MLAs Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana, who were both jailed for making inflammatory speeches? With the Special MP/MLA court at Prayagraj allowing the government to withdraw cases against them, there’s no reason why they will be kept out of the poll fray in 2022.
The Bahujan Samaj Party and Congress will apply the same logic in the selection of their candidates.
The Supreme Court’s order requiring publication of criminal cases of candidates will, therefore, have little salutary effect, at least in the near future.
The second order which makes it mandatory to seek the High Court’s nod before the withdrawal of cases against MLAs gives the party in power a clear advantage. A ruling party is more concerned about withdrawing cases against its own legislators and not those in the Opposition. Those in Opposition have to wait for the legal process to be over.
Sometimes the decision to withdraw cases is considered in “public interest,” as was done by Akhilesh Yadav as chief minister in 2014. He wanted to withdraw cases against Qader Rana, a BSP MP who was also accused in the Muzaffarnagar riots, but the administration refused to withdraw his cases.
Ajay Kumar Lallu, an MLA and the state Congress president, against whom an FIR was filed for staging a silent protest to highlight atrocities against women. Another case of criminal conspiracy was registered against him in 2020 over buses arranged by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra for ferrying migrants during the lockdown. He will have to himself get the cases quashed. He is a prospective Congress candidate.
Criminalization of politics and politicization of politics began in UP in the Eighties with Hari Shankar Tiwari, a six-time MLA, enjoying the patronage of the Congress under ND Tiwari and the Samajwadi Party under Mulayam Singh Yadav. From 1997 to 1999 he was a cabinet minister in the Kalyan Singh government. Virendra Shahi won as an independent twice. From two legislators of criminal antecedents to 143 in the present Assembly may be worrisome progress for the Supreme Court and the Election Commission of India but not as much for political parties.
A slanging match between the treasury and Opposition benches in the UP Assembly in March sums up the situation in the State. When the Leader of Opposition asked, “Kya yeh satya nahi hai ki CM ke…up CM ke mukadme wapas liye gaye, danga karne waalon ke mukadme wapas liye gaye (is it not true that cases have been withdrawn against CM, Deputy CM, and rioters) to which Law Minister Brajesh Pathak said that he had a list of cases against former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav which were recommended for withdrawal.
Atul Chandra is a senior journalist and a former Resident Editor of Times of India at Lucknow. The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author.