The Supreme Court verdict sentencing AIADMK chief VK Sasikala—the sentence against deceased Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa was abated due to her death last December
The Supreme Court verdict sentencing AIADMK chief VK Sasikala—the sentence against deceased Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa was abated due to her death last December—in the “assets disproportionate to income” case, predictably, sent the state into a tizzy, more so since after the judgment, Sasikala expelled acting chief minister O Paneerselvam and his supporters from the party and nominated Edappadi K Palanisamy for the chief minister’s job. Though the SC judgment is a big boost in the fight against corrupt politicians, the question that comes to mind is why the SC delayed the verdict for so long and how an early judgment—the case itself was registered over two decades ago and the verdict was ‘reserved’ for several months—may have changed the state’s politics in a decisive manner. Under the law on political corruption, anyone convicted loses his/her seat in Parliament/assembly and is debarred from contesting elections for the next 10 years—had the verdict been delivered earlier, this would have ruled out the deceased chief minister running for elections; what would happen to political equations is anyone’s guess.
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If this is a case of justice delayed being a case of justice denied, there are several more in the political arena. An analysis of the 2014 general elections by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) shows that of 8,163 candidates in the fray, 1,398 had criminal cases pending against them, and 889 of this lot were charged with serious crimes, including murder, corruption, kidnapping and rioting. Eventually, 185 with criminal cases pending became MPs, and of these 112 face serious charges. A total of 15 out of the 18 Shiv Sena MPs have criminal charges, and 8 of them face serious charges; in the case of the BJP, 97 of the 281 MPs face criminal charges, and 61 of them face serious charges. While the ruling party has the largest number of such parliamentarians, cases against many MPs, across parties, have been dragging on for over two and a half decades; some were even registered as far back as 1990.
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Though the Supreme Court had taken note of the protracted pendency of cases against lawmakers, and had said, in May 2014, that all cases involving lawmakers charged with serious crimes and corruption needed to reach conclusion within a year, this has not happened. Stalling cases and scuttling investigations is easy for politicians at the level of the lower courts and state police, respectively. While it may be difficult to get the higher courts and central investigative agencies involved in every political case, it would help counter a powerful politician’s heft if investigations were handed to central investigative agencies and special courts were set up for trials of serious criminal cases against such lawmakers. It does no good for India’s democracy if lawmakers, whether of the ruling party or not, are charged with serious corruption or other cases but continue to function unhindered—what makes it even worse, though there is little the courts can do about this, is that convicted politicians continue to function through proxies.