License to Contest Elections

politician2.JPGDemocracy is perhaps one of the most basic human ideas to have ever existed and to be followed as a way of life. Surprisingly, it is also one of the most misunderstood concepts.

A democratic institution is founded on certain basic principles, and egalitarianism is the most fundamental of these. All individuals stand equal in the eyes of the state and judiciary. All citizens in a democratic state are endowed with certain basic rights and their past credentials cannot be a basis for denying them these basic rights. These rights are bestowed on them by virtue of their being human beings who have a right to lead a life of freedom and dignity.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 states that “all political individuals have the right to choose their form of government and stand for a political office in their countries.” The most basic definition of a democracy would be that it represents a state where the government is of, for and by the people of that state. This definition, though not always watertight, “does” imply that a truly democratic state would be the state where ALL individuals who are citizens of the state are in a position to contest elections and participate in the formation and functioning of the government.

The issue of criminals contesting the elections is one that has gained importance since the previous general elections wherein a number of individuals with criminal records, some even found guilty of crimes as heinous as murder, rape and extortion have contested the polls and even won.

An individual who is a citizen of a democratic state has the right to contest elections and vie for a seat in the legislature, thus individuals with past criminal records are also allowed to contest elections. But this is something that is legitimized by the faith of the Constitution in the ability of the human nature to undergo reform. The adage “give a dog a bad name and hang him” is something that the principles of democracy do not agree with. The capability of men to reform themselves, renounce their life of crime and undertake responsibility is greatly underestimated. But the very fact that individuals with a police record are allowed to contest elections reflects tremendous faith in this inherent quality of human nature. A responsibility of magnitude as enormous as helping run a government is capable of bringing out the very best qualities of human nature – leadership, hard work and trustworthiness. When endowed with such a task even the most corrupt individual is likely to undergo a change of heart.

Barring criminals from contesting would have a boomerang effect of sorts. It would make them virtual ‘rejects’ of democracy; cast outs of the state and this would make reform of any sort practically impossible. An individual’s capability to participate in the government should be viewed as an independent quality without being smudged with the stains of their past misdeeds. Being responsible for the well being of millions of people is something no individual can possibly take for granted, and the real qualities required are a sense of purpose, concern for people and the ability to be resourceful and innovative. These qualities can be present in a person irrespective of whether or not they have a police record.

Uttara Balakrishnan