Political parties must list details and justify selecting criminal candidates

Political parties must upload on their websites details of criminal cases against poll candidates and the reasons for selecting them, the Supreme Court said, flagging an “alarming rise in the criminalisation of politics” in the last four national elections.

The Supreme Court said it would be mandatory for parties to upload the details of their candidates’ criminal history on their websites, on social media and in newspapers within 48 hours of selection. “Political parties will have to specify reasons for selecting candidates having pending criminal cases against them on their website,” said the court.

Parties must submit the same details to the Election Commission within 72 hours, the court said.

“The reason to select candidates should be based on merit and not winnability. Winnability can’t be the only justification,” the top court directed.

If political parties failed to give the details, or the Election Commission was unable to implement the directive, it would be considered contempt of court, the judges said.

The verdict comes on contempt petitions filed by lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay and others.

In September 2018, a five-judge constitution bench had asked the central government to immediately enact laws to ban those involved in serious crimes from contesting elections and becoming party officials.

BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay had filed a contempt petition against the central government and the Election Commission, alleging that no serious efforts were made to stop the criminalization of politics despite the court order.

The Election Commission had said during arguments that the court order to publish criminal details of the candidates was not having any impact and political parties must be directed not to give tickets to people with criminal cases.

The court had earlier even ordered that candidates publish their criminal details in the newspaper thrice after filing their nomination. The petitioner had alleged that the Election Commission had not attempted to implement this order effectively.

It is hard to tell whether today’s order on “merit over winnability” can be realistically enforced, say political leaders, referring to years of attempts to clean up politics.

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