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Keep an eye on your candidate
Vijay Singh in Mumbai |
March 09, 2004 08:44 IST
One of the reasons for disenchantment with the election process has been the entry of criminal elements into the fray. Another was the lack of a mechanism by which the electorate could get complete details about a candidate.
Candidates never bothered to declare their assets or liabilities because they were not compelled to. Up to now, there was little a voter could do to prevent such people from contesting polls.
But thanks to an amendment in the Representation of People's Act, 1951, they will get to know the antecedents of the contestants because the Election Commission has made it mandatory for contestants to file an affidavit giving information about themselves, their assets, liabilities and criminal cases, if any, pending against them.
"If anyone fails to file the affidavit, we are authorised to reject their nomination papers," says Maharashtra Joint Chief Electoral Official K V Kurundkar.
This means people like gangster-turned-politicians Arun Gawli will have to make public all the criminal cases they are facing and details of convictions, if any. Gawli has plans to contest the coming Lok Sabha election from the Mumbai South Central seat.
The sitting MP from that seat, Mohan Rawle of the Shiv Sena, is facing another kind of problem. He owes Rs 22lakh to MTNL for use of his official telephone.
MTNL would not have allowed any other customer to run up such a huge bill. But if he did, the telephone connection would be promptly cut until the dues are cleared. Rawle has been merely declared a defaulter and asked to clear his dues.
If Rawle includes the amount in his list of liabilities, he would have to show sufficient assets to prove that he can clear it. Else, he will face a tough time explaining how he intends to clear his dues.
When contacted, Rawle refused to comment on this issue.
Earlier, such bills would never be paid because no one dared ask an MP to pay up. Things are slightly different now. MPs can still avoid paying up but will have to inform the electorate about it. The voter can then decide on the punishment for milking a PSU.
Even if an MP does not mention the dues in his affidavit, he can still contest the election.
If someone finds out about this oversight during the course of the election campaign, he may lodge a complaint with the Election Commission. The EC cannot reject his candidature at that junction but can take legal action once the election process is complete. If found guilty, a candidate can face legal action for furnishing a false affidavit. If he had won the election, he can even lose his seat.
What do the parties have to say about their candidates' criminal background and liabilities?
Former Maharashtra chief minister and Congress Working Committee member Vilas Deshmukh says, "A large number of people in our country are still illiterate and do not make informed decisions. The new rules will help them know more about the candidates.
"These things (assets, liabilities, criminal background) can effect the voter's mind and political parties will also use such information against each other. But every political party should support these rules and deny tickets to unsavoury candidates. The Congress will definitely consider a candidate's background while allotting tickets."
Bharatiya Janata Party president M Venkaiah Naidu says, "Everyone should give details of their background."
Shiv Sena spokesperson Subhash Desai said, "We will follow the rules laid down by the Election Commission. We will check the criminal background and liabilities of candidates while allotting party tickets to contest the election."
Regarding Mohan Rawle, he said the MP might clear the dues to MTNL before filling his nomination papers.
Nationalist Congress Party general secretary (for Maharashtra) Gurunath Kulkarni said, "We are bound to follow the rules laid down by the Election Commission. We will consider the applicant's criminal background and liabilities while allotting tickets."
Samajwadi Party's Maharashtra unit president Abu Asim Azmi was an accused in the 1992-93 Mumbai blasts case. The Supreme Court acquitted him. He wants 'only chargesheeted and convicted people should be told to give details of their criminal records. There is no need for undertrials to do so'.
He has his reasons, which find an echo among other parties too. "Often, people suffer because of false cases are registered against them," says the Rajya Sabha MP.
On assets and liabilities, he says, "People sometimes show more liabilities than assets. In such cases, the details should be crosschecked very closely. After all, how is it possible for someone with more liabilities than assets to clear his dues?"
One can expect opponents to raise several such uncomfortable questions during this election.
The affidavits will be displayed outside the office of a constituency's returning officer. Any individual or organisation can get a copy on payment of a nominal sum.
If anyone finds that a particular detail is incorrect or that a candidate has not declared certain facts, he can approach the returning officer with the grievance. The latter will move the court and seek prosecution of the candidate for filing a false affidavit.