The Centre arguing against automatic disqualification of lawmakers upon conviction in a criminal case—it told the Supreme Court that such lawmakers should be allowed to pass all stages of appeal before being disqualified—erodes whatever sanctity is attached with lawmaking and electoral policy in the country. To be sure, the right to judicial remedy that extends to the appeal process as well is a fundamental right. But the Supreme Court, in a 2013 judgment, had said that conviction even at the subordinate court level entails automatic disqualification. Till then, law-makers had refused to give up their legislative office pending a hearing of their appeals. But, even after the 2013 judgment, lawmakers in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have refused to give up their seats. Their bellicosity has meant that polls to elect their replacement have been delayed pending the protocol being followed. As per Lok Prahari—an NGO whose petition to ensure automatic disqualification the SC is hearing at present—the convicted lawmakers’ parties have used the opportunity to ask for a stay on their conviction in higher courts.
The Centre cited a 2007 SC verdict in which a three-judge bench held that a candidate’s disqualification will be in abeyance from the date a higher court puts on hold his/her conviction order. Analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms shows that the Parliament today has the highest number of politicians facing criminal charges in the last decade, with charges ranging from kidnapping to sexual assault, extortion to murder. While trumped up charges have become fair game in political rivalry, conviction in such cases is unlikely. Not only does protecting a lawbreaker so that he/she can then participate in lawmaking sound ironic, the government needs to also understand that people’s representatives have to held to a higher level of accountability. In the Delhi University Students Union election, a candidate from the Congress affiliated NSUI won the post of president, but the Delhi High Court has barred him from taking charge because of criminal charges that he faces. In such a scenario, if the government itself argues that convicted lawmakers be allowed to hold office till they have passed all levels of appeal, the example before budding, young leaders is that they can get away with murder, at least till years of appeal have been exhausted.