Criminalisation of Politics
“As per election Commission estimates 1,500 candidates in the 1996 Parliamentary election had criminal records and 40 of them got elected to the 11th Lok Sabha. In the State Legislatures, the picture is even more distressing. Out of the 4,072 sitting MLA’s in all the states, more than 700 have criminal record”.
Criminals enter Politics to become Politicians and then patronize other criminals. The dire consequences of this unholy alliance between criminals and Politicians is that at every level from bottom, Panch at Panchayat level to Chief Minister or Ministers at Sate and Central State, Criminals are being elected and appointed to the positions of power.
Politics has now become a shortcut way of earning. Once elected a person can accumulate money sufficient for his few generations. Neither Gandhi Ji nor the other freedom fighters who sacrificed their all luxuries and comfort for the cause of nation would have ever dreamt that a day would come when India’s governance would pass into the hands of criminals and corrupt anti-social elements.
The reason many criminals enter politics is to gain influence and ensure that cases against them are dropped or not proceeded with. They are able to make it big in the political arena because of their financial clout. Political parties tap criminals for funds and in return provide them with political patronage and protection. As the Times of India pointed out: “Indeed, today, far from shrinking at the thought of harboring criminal elements, parties seek them out judging the muscle and money combination they represent to be enormous value. Rough estimates suggest that in any state election 20 percent of candidates are drawn from criminal backgrounds. For the parties, it means overflowing coffers and unlimited funds to fight elections and for the criminals it means protection from the law and respect in the eyes of society.”
Another reason why political parties are not averse to fielding mafia dons is that winability, not merit or experience, determines who gets to contest elations. And mafia dons and other powerful gangsters have shown that they can convert their muscle power into vote’s often at gun point. Voters in many parts in the country are forced to vote for the local strongman. The reign of terror that these criminals have spread in their area of operations ensures that they win the seat for the party.
In the 2000 elections to the Bihar State Assembly, every single one of the underworld dons and scamsters who contested the polls either from jail or in hiding was elected, with big margins. Among those who won with huge margins were men accused of offences ranging from extortion and kidnapping to murder. Some of them were even brought from the jail by police van for the swearing-in ceremony at the assembly building.
An indomitable Mr. T.N. Sheshan tried his best to cleanse the system, but he failed. Mr. Sheshan’s successor, Mr. Gill faced the same problem. The Ex. Chief Election Commissioner Mr. Lingdoh also found himself in such a pitiable position, that he has no concrete remedy to cleanse the system, but to appeal the voters: Not to vote for the criminals. Mr. T.s. Krihnamurty, the Chief Election Commissioner, also faces the same dilemma. Most fo the dreaded dacoits of Chambal or Murena valley were driven to crime as a result of their own victimization or because of some social, economic or personal causes. But for the modern criminals turned politician, crime has become a way of life and most of them thrive with the blessing of the senior Politicians, Ministers and even the Chief Ministers and Union Ministers. Pity of the parties that have given tickets to such candidates. During last election, many candidates in Bihar collected illegal guns and explosives to be used by them to ensure victory, what a shame on the part of our law makers cannot make a law to van at least a person for contesting elections who is punished by the law and sentenced for imprisonment. Thousand of unauthorized arms manufacturing units worked overtime to meet the increasing demand of fire arms. Tickets were given to the candidates with criminal records even by National Parties. U.P. is not behind Bihar in fielding candidates with criminal background. The recent case of Amar Mani Tripathi, Minister in the Mayawati Government, being charged for the murder of Madhumita, a Poet, is flagrant example of nexus between Criminals and Poitics.
A virtual impression seems have gained ground that you could commit crime and get away with it, if you have Political patronage at the proper level. The Police dare not to proceed against you or if having initiated an action shall drag away their feet to defeat the ends of justice. With politics and crime intertwined, bureaucracy and the Police have also become part of nexus. This unholy affinity is having a malignant effect over the public life and poses a threat to the democratic structure of the country.
Politics has become such a lucrative and beneficial business, that whoever can invest or bid both money power and muscle power, can earn through for a few generations and enjoy unfettered power and respect among the society.
No one wants to vote for a criminal. And yet for years criminals have been using our electoral system to enter politics with citizens hopelessly looking on. Until recently our laws sanction Election officials asking candidates for detailed information about their criminal and financial background, let alone making this information available to the public before the polls began.
But as India went to her largest election exercise over this year, the balance has perhaps begun to shift in favour of voters. India’s 2004 elections are the first and the largest national election exercise that is being fought under the new election disclosure rules instituted in 2003. Candidates for Parliament and State Assemblies are now required to submit sworn affidavits along with their nomination papers given information about their criminal, financial and educational backgrounds.
Nationwide, citizens wanting to know more about their candidates have a better opportunity before casing their ballot. To the cynics, this drop in the ocean and may not lead to much. This may be the beginning of a new era in India democracy; an era of opportunity for citizens’ initiatives to mobilize around publicly available information.
During the current elections cycle, the election Commission opened the gates for the media and citizens to collect copies of candidate affidavits from Returning Officers and the District Election Officers. Ten states are having some form of election watch campaign, indicating a broad-based nationwide civil society initiative to give teeth to the EC rules. Some State Election Commissions have already made candidate disclosures public on their websites and election watches have been distributing analysis to the media and citizens.
In a nation crying for reforms in our electoral system, process of power and judiciary, this verdict and people’s right to know must be the starting point of democratic reform. This is also a moment for us to reflect. Once again the resilience of our democratic system, the inherent strength of institutions and the constitutional checks and balances stand as testimony to the maturity and vibrancy of our governance system. We congratulate the advocates who marshaled the arguments ably on behalf of citizens and helped the court form its conclusions. Millions of Indians, several organizations and media all have fought this battle for democracy and liberty in keeping with glorious traditions of citizen assertion and people’s sovereignty. We salute those sentinels of freedom.
But there are certain pitfalls we should avoid. This should not be seen as a struggle between the people and the political parties. Politics is a noble endeavour. There cannot be democracy without robust politics and strong parties. Parties have a difficult job in our diverse society and very often the politicians are as much victims of a vicious cycle as they are villains. Revulsion of politics is dangerous. Very often they are captive in the hands of politics which dominate the electoral scene in a first-past-the-post system. Our parties are striving hard to sustain our democracy against great odds. They need our full support in this endeavour.
We are confident, however, that our parties and legislators will exhibit the requisite courage, wisdom and foresight to accept this verdict of the Supreme Court and use it as a launching pad for engineering far-reaching and vital electoral and governance reforms.
Neither should this be viewed as a turf battle between Parliament and Judiciary. No democrat can question the supremacy of elected legislature in law making. Equally the judiciary has the ultimate responsibility to interpret the constitution and uphold fundamental rights. True, there are concerns about judicial usurpation of executive and legislative authority and those concerns are legitimate. But the campaign for electoral reforms is the wrong case to contest judicial role.
This judgment opens up many vistas and the battle for reclaiming our republic for the people has just begun. We, on behalf of National Campaign for Electoral Reforms, appeal to the political parties, media, and enlightened citizens to fully respect this verdict of the Supreme Court and work for genuine democratic reforms to help us fulfill our potential as a nation and minimize avoidable suffering.
The Patna High Court’s latest ruling on countermanding of elections in constituencies where candidates with criminal records were contesting is a positive move to check the criminalization of politics in India. The Patna High Court has directed the Election Commission to consider countermanding of elections in constituencies where candidates facing criminal trials were contesting. The court has also asked the Commission to take a decision to this effect before the announcement of the results. Though on the appeal filed by the Election Commission the Supreme Court has stayed the ruling of Patna High Court and said that once the Election Process has begun crush rulings are not feasible. The Apex court also said that the matter will be looked into at a later stage. The Patna High Court ruling is a positive step to prevent the entry of criminals into electoral politics. Some pointed out that the court’s ruling van be misused to prevent an individual from contesting elections by withholding him on criminal charges through manipulation.
The enormous problem of the nexus between criminals and politicians cannot be ignored any longer. The submission of affidavit may have some deterrent effect, but seems as it will also result in a futile exercise as in India, votes are being cast on the basis of caste, creed and religion. The poor illiterate people of this country still vote to their caste man or to the man of fellow religionship, or to the fellow who belongs to their region. Moral values and ethics have long been vanished from the political arena of our country, but we cannot have such an indifferent attitude. We shall have to find a solution to eradicate the menace for which we are ourselves also responsible to a great extent.
In a democratic country, all the powers lies in the hands of the voters that is the general public, an awakening among the general mass can only show the right place to such criminal politicians.
Criminalisation of Politics
Criminalisation of politics is one of the serious problem affecting the democracy of our country. A large number of criminals are entering the Parliament and Legislative Assemblies. According to the Election Commission, about 700 MLAs and 40 MPs were involved in criminal cases. Out of the 13,952 candidates in the last elections, nearly 1,500 had cases of murder, dacoity, rape and extortion pending against them. It is a matter of serious concern that a large number of MPs and MLAs with criminal records are entering the law making bodies. How can a ‘law breaker’ become ‘law maker’?
India practices Parliamentary system of government with a territorial representation. There are various constituencies and whoever gets the highest votes in that particular constituency wins the seat and becomes MP or MLA. So the goal is just to get maximum number of votes by any means. There is no provision for securing more than 50% of votes. As a result all sorts of means, some fair and some unfair, are employed to secure the votes. Money and muscle power plays important role here to get to one’s side. That is why violence has been increasing during polls in recent years. The violence is not only limited during polls or before polling but can be witnessed within the houses of state assemblies in recent years. The violence which took place on the floor of the house in Uttar Pradesh to prove the majority for BJP government is a latest example to show that to what extent our polity has degenerated.
The reasons for increasing criminalisation of politics can be explored at various levels. The most important is the degeneration of values on the part of politicians. The commitment to serve the people, which is the foundation stone of democracy is declining. The only motive left is to serve themselves along with the near and dear ones. That is why all sorts of unfair means are practiced to secure votes. Caste and religious loyalties are emphasized and populist measures are announced. Above all the influence of money plays an important role. Muscle is used quite often. So booth capturing, bogus voting and ballot boxes replacements have become normal. Various pressure tactics are used to get votes.
Criminalisation of politics has other recent dimensions. Previously, due to nexus between criminals and politicians, politicians were using criminals for malpractices and money and muscle power. But now these criminals are themselves contesting the elections and winning the seats using all sorts of unfair means. Even the Vohra Committee report on ‘criminalisation of politics’ came out with the existence of politicians and criminals nexus. But nothing has happened to expose the nexus and on taking actions against them. Every political party gives tickets to criminals and that is why we have reached such a political mess.
The administration whose duty is to execute the laws and prevent the malpractices becomes a party to the whole nexus. The administration is either neutral during these incidents or takes sides. The reason being administration is corrupt. Whichever political party is in power, most of the times administration favours the party in power for its own personal gains. As a result gross violations of laws is witnessed. So the nexus between politicians, criminals and administration has to be broken at all levels in order to ensure smooth and effective functioning of our democracy.
Criminalisation of politics has serious repercussion on our society and polity. The people are left with no choice but to choose between worse candidates. Genuine and good candidates do not contest the elections. Either they do not have money and muscle power or party affiliation. Political parties do not welcome such candidates due to their corrupt and undemocratic systems. As a result the whole social atmosphere is vitiated. The whole system has become so corrupt and undemocratic that strong individuals are not able to fit in the electoral arena. Our educational patterns are not able to instill correct moral values which lead to drop out becoming criminals and entering legislatures.
The quality of debates in the Parliament and Legislative Assemblies has suffered badly. Most of the time the houses are adjourned on trifles and personal matters. Serious discussions on important issues are relegated into background. Important bills remain pending which need nation’s greater importance like ‘Lok Pal’ and ‘Women’s Representations’. What can criminals discuss? They do not have moral right to legislate and make laws when they have already violated laws. Some times the ability to debate on various issues has been questioned due to specializations on matters of governance. Governance is becoming technical and specialized day by day.
Criminalisation of politics need to be checked on all fronts. Political parties need to take the initiative by not giving tickets to tainted persons, only law to debar the criminals from contesting the elections will not help. The people should not encourage the criminals by making them win. The awareness should increase by imparting proper education with moral education right from the home to the school and college levels. Otherwise the nation will be wasting resources and time for nothing to be achieved. If it is not checked right now, the Parliament and Assemblies will not be right place to sit and legislate and govern the nation for the betterment of people.