Crime does not pay … as well as politics. Wherein thousands of our criminal-politicos slug it out for “bullet-proof jackets” — MP-MLA’s tag. This chilling reality hit bull’s eye when Supreme Court found an unimpeded rise of criminals whereby 43% of MPs or 233 of 539 today have criminal cases pending against them of which 29% are serious: 10 MPs have convicted cases, 11 cases related to murder, 30 attempts to murder and 19 crimes against women.
Shockingly, a 100% increase from 24% in 2004, 30% in 2009 and 34% in 2014. Of these the BJP has 116 of 301 MPs (39%), Congress 29 of 51 (57%), DMK 10 of 23 (43%), Trinamool 9 of 22 (41%) and JD(U) 13 of 16 (81%). One Congress MP has declared 204 cases including committing culpable homicide, house trespass, robbery and criminal intimidation.
Alas, today, Parties are brazenly nominating criminals as candidates resulting in racketeers and murderers filling the rogues’ gallery of power and fame. Worse is the criminal content in States. Rough estimates aver that in any State election 20% candidates are criminals. In UP 143 (36%) of 403-MLAs, Bihar 142 (58%) of 243 MLAs face criminal charges of whom 70 (49%) have already been charge-sheeted. Arguably, with such legislators, how can we expect to remove crime from the country?
Kudos to the Supreme Court which directed Parties to not field candidates with criminal antecedents and give reasons to voters that it was not the candidate’s “mere winnability” which goaded it to give him a ticket to contest elections instead of a decent citizen. More, it should explain to people through published material how the “qualifications or achievements or merit” of a candidate, charged with a crime, impressed it enough to cast aside the smear of his criminal background.
Further, Parties should publish within 48 hours of a candidate’s selection or less than two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations information on the candidate’s criminal antecedents including the offences, charges framed against him, court concerned, case number etc in a local and national newspaper and its social media handles. Parties would need to submit compliance reports with the Election Commission within 72 hours or risk contempt of court action.
In a milieu where power translates into a numbers game Parties field mafia dons as they convert their muscle power into votes at gun point with illicit funds and emerge victorious than candidates’ with clean records. The arrangement works on a quid-pro-quo. Parties get unlimited funds to fight elections and criminals protection from law.
Why do mafia dons invest large sums in getting a neta’s tag? It is a ticket to continue extortions using political power, gain influence and ensure that cases against them are dropped. Besides, the returns on political investments are so high and profitable that criminals are disinclined to invest in anything else.
From criminalisation of politics to politicisation of crime, India has come full circle. Alas, the number of mafiaso-politicos are rapidly multiplying in legislatures ushering in a new don (read dawn) wherein yesterday’s mafia dons are today Right Honourables a law unto themselves and all-powerful. Wherein an MP-MLA tag, acts like a magic shield from police, encounters and rivals.
Bringing things to such a pass that our jan sevaks dance to the tune of their underworld benefactors at the cost of the people. Consequently, with apradhi-banne-netas democracy is being boxed in three stages — mafia box, cartridge box and ballot box!
Scandalously, criminal are crowding out honest candidates at the national and State level. According to a recent report 45.5% ‘criminal’ candidates win against 24.7% with clean backgrounds. Thus, in this self perpetuating system the growing Indian middle class is not averse to electing criminals if they can become their patrons and deliver goods.
Raising a moot point: Does the electorate really want an honest politician and squeaky clean Government? Doesn’t seem so. Many good candidates are known to lose their deposits. Besides, an honest person can promise to fight the system and reform it, but voters prefer venal fixers who flex muscle, terrorise constituents to keep them in check or provide protection, ration and Government jobs. For this, he gets votes.
As a former Chief Minister argued about having 22 Ministers in his Cabinet with criminal antecedents, “I don’t bother about the Ministers’ past. After joining the Government, they are not indulging in crimes and are ready to help suppress criminal activities. Ask the people why they have elected them.” How do you rebut this logic?
Clearly, the country is suffering from want of a “few good men” in politics as some rulers act for political gains wasting taxpayers’ money by announcing outlandish schemes and subsidies whereby the country can go to hell. More. They change Parties at a drop of a hat to remain in power, lie without batting an eyelid, are shameless, defame others with false accusations and if caught apologise, indulge in theatrics to attract attention and manipulate to achieve their selfish interests and amass wealth.
One could have dismissed politico-criminalisation as a passing phase but the tragedy is that our democratic system has been usurped by criminals. Bluntly, we have forsaked honesty and morality wherein crime is now politics which ensures victory. It is this mutual benefit and camaraderie between the criminal-Party nexus which is the cause célèbre for our netagan.
Today mafia dons get away like escape artists, thanks to legal delays, often abetted by political pressures, making convictions rather rare, the aam aadmi is naturally cynical. Most distressingly it doesn’t strike any chord or shocks, it is an accepted norm. Curse all, but when push comes to shove the majority willingly lumps it. Hence, our system has unwittingly created huge incentives for criminals to enter politics.
Voters tend to view criminal-politicos through the narrow prism of representing their interests by hook or by crook. Not a few choose the lesser evil of candidates with similar records. Simply, there aren’t any options. One Party’s candidate is a murderer, the next a rapist etc leaving one to choose the lesser evil and elect a robber! Either way, it not only reflects a poor image of India’s elected representatives but also makes people wary of our netagan. Shrugged, as a price one pays for democracy.
It remains to be seen if our leaders will heed the Court given that similar series of landmark judgments were issued over the years. In 2013 it removed the statutory protection of convicted legislators from immediate disqualification and in 2014 directed the completion of trials involving elected representatives within a year. In 2017, it asked the Centre to frame a scheme to appoint special courts to exclusively try cases against politicians, and for Parties to publicise pending criminal cases faced by their candidates in 2018.
Sadly, these have not been a deterrent to legislators with dubious credentials. Perhaps the time has come for Parliament to consider an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and frame a law which disallows candidates against whom charges have been framed in court for serious offences.
Alongside we need to educate voters and create enhanced awareness, increase democratic participation by creating the right conditions for de-criminalisation of politics. We need to answer two questions. How many murder charges are required before one is considered unfit to represent the people of India? Are there no honest and capable netas?