(Sample Material) UPSC IAS Mains GS Online Coaching : Paper 4 - "Ethical Framework"

Sample Material of Our IAS Mains GS Online Coaching Programme

Subject: General Studies (Paper 4 - Ethics, Integrity, and Aptitude)

Topic: Ethical Framework


Ethics and Politics


Any discussion on an ethical framework for governance in a democracy must necessarily begin with ethical values in politics. Politics and those engaged in it, play a vital role in the legislative and executive wings of the State whose acts of commission and omission in working the Constitution and the rule of law become the point of intervention for the judiciary. While it is unrealistic and simplistic to expect perfection in politics in an ethically imperfect environment, there is no denying the fact that the standards set in politics profoundly influence those in other aspects of governance. Those in politics have a clear and onerous responsibility. India was fortunate that high standards of ethical conduct were an integral part of the freedom struggle. Unfortunately, ethical capital started getting eroded after the transfer of power. Excesses in elections (in campaign-funding, use of illegitimate money, quantum of expenditure, imperfect electoral rolls, impersonation, booth-capturing, violence, inducements and intimidation), floor-crossing after elections to get into power and abuse of power in public office became major afflictions of the political process over the years. Political parties, governments and more importantly the Election Commission and the Supreme Court have taken several steps since the late 1980s in an attempt to eliminate the gross abuses that had virtually become the norm.Yet, there is a widespread view that much more needs to be done to cleanse our political system. Along with that of corruption, this issue was raised in every public hearing held by the Commission during its visits to the States.

Criminalization of politics – ‘participation of criminals in the electoral process’ - is the soft underbelly of our political system. The growth of crime and violence in society (to the point of encouraging ‘mafia’ in many sectors) is due to a number of root causes. Flagrant violation of laws, poor quality of services and the corruption in them, protection for law-breakers on political, group, class, communal or caste grounds, partisan interference in investigation of crimes and poor prosecution of cases, inordinate delays lasting over years and high costs in the judicial process, mass withdrawal of cases, indiscriminate grant of parole, etc., are the more important of the causes. The Commission will deal with these issues in detail in its ensuing Report on Public Order. It only needs to be stated here that, in this situation, the criminal who, paradoxically, is able to ensure speedy justice in some cases becomes almost a “welcome character”! On his part, the criminal builds on this “acceptance” and is emboldened to enter politics and elections. The opportunity to influence crime investigations and to convert the policemen from being potential adversaries to allies is the irresistible magnet drawing criminals topolitics. The elected position and the substantial protection that it can give, helps him either to further and expand his activities or to evolve into an entity with higher political ambitions. As for political parties, such individuals bring into the electoral process, their ability to secure votes through use of money and muscle power.

This is a short-term win-win situation for all, except for public good and good governance. All this has not taken place everywhere, but to the extent that it did, it led to a situation when the Election Commission formally stated that one in six legislators in India faced grave criminal charges. It was then time for urgent corrective steps.

Large, illegal and illegitimate expenditure in elections is another root cause of corruption. While there are formal limits to expenditure and some steps have been put in place in an attempt to check them, in reality, actual expenditure is alleged to be far higher. Abnormal election expenditure has to be recouped in multiples to sustain the electoral cycle! This results in ‘unavoidable’ and ubiquitous corruption altering the nature of political and administrative power and undermining trust and democracy. Cleansing elections is the most important route to improve ethical standards in politics, to curb corruption and rectify maladministration.

Recent Improvements

Despite all the flaws in the functioning of a democracy, it has a measure of self correction. As stated earlier, significant efforts have been made over the last two decades to bring about meaningful electoral reforms. Some have observed that the past decade has seen more political reform in India than in any other large democracy after the Second World War. Briefly stated, the more important of the reforms relate to :

Improvement in Accuracy of Electoral Rolls:
• The Election Commission has made efforts to make voter registration more accessible to voters and involve, to some extent, post offices in revision of Electoral rolls.
• Printed electoral rolls/CDs have been made available for sale.
• Computerisation of entire electoral rolls of over 620 million voters has been initiated.
• The provision of photo-identity cards for all voters has been started.

Studies by civil society organizations like Loksatta have shown considerable improvement and reduction in errors in electoral rolls between 1999 and 2004.

Disclosure of Antecedents of Candidates:
• The Supreme Court has directed that a candidate should declare any conviction by a court or whether a criminal case is pending against him;
• The direction to file a declaration of assets and liabilities of the candidate and family members would enable a check at the time of the next elections.

Disqualification of Persons Convicted of Criminal Offence:
• The Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act was unconstitutional as it violated equality before law. Now all convicted candidates stand at an election on the same footing, whether at the time of conviction they were incumbent legislators or not. (However, during the term of a legislator, exemption from disqualification does apply if an appeal is pending and sentence is stayed).

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