Criminals in Indian Politics

Written By: / Articles / Wednesday, 06 October 2021 20:01

All politicians are crooks. At least, that is what a lot of people think in a lot of countries. It is a reproach. In India, the world’s largest democracy, the symbiotic relationship between crime and politics raises complex issues. The nexus of crime and politics is quite apparent—and baffling—in India where 43% of its members of parliament have ongoing criminal cases and around 21% are facing charges that, if upheld, would merit prison time. These are the people that Indian voters put in power. Crime and politics in India are so intertwined that a “clean politician’’ sounds like an oxymoron, a breed that no longer exists. This fact hits home even harder as the world’s largest democracy with 1.3 billion people, the second most populousnation after China, gears up for a high-octane election in the early 2022 in five states to determine the credibility of the BJP led NDA government in India. Democracy is thriving in India with about 912 million voters queuing up at over 900,000 polling stations to cast their ballots in 2019 to determine the fortunes of 8039 candidates representing 650 political parties. But all is not well, with the country’s polity.
Corruption is striking at the very root of the democratic ethos, with nationwide surveys highlighting the extent of the rot. According to a report released by the Association for Democratic Reform(ADR), a non-profit organization that works in elections and political reforms, a total of 1,580 members of parliament(MPs) and Members of legislative assemblies(MLAs) or approximately 43% of the legislatures in Indian parliament and state assemblies , have criminal cases pending against them. While some of their charges are minor, over 21% of the new MPs face serious charge such as attempted to murder, assaulting public officials and theft. Almost all the parties in India, led by the ruling party and main opposition, field tainted candidates. The analysis was based on affidavits submitted by legislatures. Out of the total 4,896 MPs and MLAs in the country, the study analyzed affidavits of 4,845, of them including 768 of 776 affidavits of MPs and 4,077 of 4,120 MLAs.Nearly half of the newly elected Lok Sabah members (of 2019) have criminal charges against them, a 26%increase as compared to 2014, according to ADR.Of the 539 winning candidates, analyzed by ADR, as many as 233 MPs or 43% have criminal charges. The BJP has 116 MPs or 39% of its winning candidates with criminal cases, followed by 29 MPs (57%) from Congress, 13(81%) from JDU, 10(43%) from DMK and 9(41%) from TMC. In 2014, 185 Lok Sabah members (34%) had criminal charges and 112 MPs had serious criminal cases against them. In 2009, 162 (nearly 30%) out of the 543 Lok Sabah MPs had criminal cases and 14% had serious criminal charges. In the present Lok Sabah, nearly 29% of the cases are related to rape, murder, and attempt to murder or crime against women. There is an increase of 109% (in 2019) in the number of MPs with declared serious criminal cases since 2009. 11 winners –5 from the BJP, 2 from BSP, one each from the Congress, NCP and the YSR Congress party and an independent have murder charges against them. Moreover, 29 winners have declared cases related to hate speech. The crime –politician nexus have invited opprobrium from no less than the country’s highest court. In September, 2018, court ordered the parliament to ‘’cure the malignancy’’ of criminalization of politics by making a law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter the political arena. It also advised that the ‘’ political stream of politics be cleansed’’. Holding that the criminalization of politics is an extremely disastrous and lamentable situation. The five—judges constitution bench headed by erstwhile Chief justice Dipak Misra said’’ unsettlingly increasing trends has the propensity to’’ send shivers down the spine of constitutional democracy. The court added that the criminalization of politics was not incurable but the issue was required to be dealt with soon before it becomes fatal to democracy.
Our Indian democracy has been a steady increase in the level of criminalization creeping into Indian politics. This trend of disrupt constitutional ethos, strikes at the root of democratic form of government and make citizens suffer; the judges said. Experts opine that a major reason why corruption is so entrenched in the system is because there is no stringent law that required political parties to revoke the membership of tainted candidates. Unless Parliament amends Article 102 of the Constitution and provisions of the People’s Act to disqualify unworthy candidates, nothing will change, admits High Court Lawyer and activist Sapna Narang. However, chances of the government doing so are slim because tainted candidates have clout and come with Winn ability factor. Infact, so relaxed are the rules that currently, even candidates jailed for less than two years can contest elections. A quote of BBC point out that criminal gets elected not only because many voters are ill-informed but also for sociopolitical reasons. Voters support criminals’ candidates in constituencies when the social divisions driven by caste and/ or religion are sharp and the government is failing to carry out its functions—delivering services, dispensing justice or providing security—in an impartial manner. In 2014, ADR along with National election Watch, a campaign comprising 1200 NGOs working on electoral reforms, analyzed the self-sworn affidavits of 542 of 543 winners in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and found that a candidate with a criminal background was almost twice as likely to win than a candidate with no criminal background. The winning chances of a tainted candidate were 13% while those of clean candidate were 5%. People feel legislatures with criminal background are powerful and will therefore get work done from bureaucracy infested government offices—say a worker of a political party. In rural areas especially, people don’t care about criminal cases of the candidates. If they feel, the candidate will make their lives simpler, they just vote for the candidate.
In fact, so rampant is corruption among politicians in the hinterlands, bedeviled by entrenched social and gender inequities , that sullied candidate often wear their disrepute as a badge of honor. Boastful claims among candidates about who is the ‘’ biggest criminal’’ are common. In a classic case of life imitating art, Bollywood, the Indian film industry often portrays Robin Hood-esque criminal politician a protagonists. Many such movies have gone on to become hits. According to psychologist Prabha Jhanvi, a lecturer at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, this kind of cinema—with an overarching narrative of the good Samaritan/criminal politician who helps underdogs- resonates with Indian audiences. This is reflective of real life where social divisions driven by caste/ religion run deep due to governance and administrative missteps. Another reason why criminalizing thrives in the political arena, according to experts, is because of prolonged trials in court and lower conviction rates. According to India Spend, a data –driven journalism website, in September 2018, only 6% of criminal cases against India’s MPs and MLAs ended in conviction, as per the data submitted by the central government to the Supreme Court of India. Of 3884 such cases conviction for which results in a six-year ban from contesting election – guilty judgment were pronounced in 38 incidence and 560 were acquitted. In 18 of 29 states and 2 of 7 union territories, there were no convictions for criminal cases against MPs and MLAs; the cases include murder, attempted murder, kidnaping, hate speech and criminal intimidation. Political scientist Milan Vaishnav, who has been studying links between crime and democracy in India, points out in his book- When crime pays-that is a key factor motivating parties to select candidates with serious criminal records comes down to cold hard cash. The spiraling cost of election and an opaque election financing system characterized by parties and candidates under –reporting collections and expenses inevitably leads to parties preferring cash-lush candidates who do not represent a drain on the finite party coffers but instead contribute rents to the party, explains Vaishnav . Many of these candidates are on the wrong side of Law.
It all comes down to the money, doesn’t it? The recent financial Bill now makes it almost impossible to decode the unanimity of donor and receiver in case of funds given to a political party. That just tells you where the priorities are of the current government, even though the election rhetoric was significantly different. Indeed, there has been no serious attempt to cleanse the system as a flawed one suits all. An expert point out to tackle the root of the problem , India needs a cohesive approach to make its election financing system transparent, urge parties to become more democratic and ensure that people have access to better services and equitable justice delivery system. It is imperative that the parliament evolve a mechanism to keep criminal politicians out of the political fray and the people continue their struggle for the decriminalization of politics at every level of government. Else, soon, India’s claims to be the world’s largest democracy will ring hollow.
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About the Author

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh is a regular contributor of Imphal Times. Presently, he is teaching Mathematics at JCRE Global College. Jugeshwor can be reached at: [email protected] Or WhatsApp’s No: 9612891339.

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