Sample Material of Our IAS Mains GS Online Coaching Programme
Subject: General Studies (Paper 4 - Ethics, Integrity, and
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.
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
• Printed electoral rolls/CDs have been made available for sale.
• Computerisation of entire electoral rolls of over 620 million voters has been
• 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).