IN the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, the Centre has invited the ire of the top judiciary over its laxity in keeping tabs on the accumulation of wealth by lawmakers. The Supreme Court has asked the government to explain in two weeks why it has not set up a permanent institutional mechanism to monitor the ‘undue’ accretion of assets by elected representatives, as ordered in February last year. At that time, the court had stated that the issue was a ‘sure indicator’ of the beginning of a failing democracy, which, if left unattended, would pave the way for the rule of the mafia.
The government has also not put in place a key provision stipulating that the non-disclosure or partial disclosure of assets would amount to ‘undue influence’ under the Representation of the People Act. Back in 2003, the SC had ruled that it was a voter’s fundamental right to know the candidates’ qualifications, assets, liabilities and criminal antecedents, if any. A dishonest declaration by nominees robs the voter of this right and prevents him or her from making an informed choice. A candidate who cheats the electorate even before voting can only be expected to act worse after he is elected.
The Election Commission must crack the whip on those who withhold information which could jeopardise their electoral prospects if it is revealed. Transparency in such affairs is a constitutional imperative. The Central Board of Direct Taxes had told the Supreme Court in September 2017 that 98 MLAs and seven Lok Sabha MPs, whose assets had witnessed a manifold increase in a short span, were under investigation. However, the public remains in the dark about the outcome of such inquiries. A key factor is the covert resistance offered by most politicians, cutting across party lines. It suits them to reveal their personal details selectively rather than coming clean about all their acquisitions. Make hay while the sun shines is their mantra. It is high time they are held accountable for such acts of commission and omission. Periodic and strict monitoring can act as a deterrent to corruption by elected representatives.