Poonam I Kaushish
Ouch! Truth hurts when it hits bull’s eye. “Nations start off on the basis of high ideals and noble values….but gradually, texture of politics changes whereby almost half the MPs in Lok Sabha have criminal charges pending against them, including charges of rape and murder,” underscored Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
A miffed New Delhi summoned the island State’s High Commissioner and conveyed its objection. Yet, how does it explain 233 of 539 (43%) of our Right Honourables have criminal cases pending against them of which 29% are serious: 10 MPs have convicted cases, 11 cases related to murder, 30 attempt to murder and 19 crimes against women.
The BJP tops the ignominy list with 116 (39%) of 301 MPs, Congress 29 (57%) of 53, JD(U) 13 (81%), DMK 10 (43%) and TMC 9 (41%). Shockingly, a whopping 2,556 MPs and MLAs from 22 States are accused in criminal cases. One Congress MP has 204 cases including culpable homicide, house trespass, robbery and criminal intimidation. A 100% increase from 24% in 2004, 30% in 2009 and 34% in 2014.
Alas, in these polls too there is both an abundance of supply and demand of bahubalis with numerous criminal records in the rajniti bazaar. Think. Of 623 candidates in UP’s first poll phase 615 have criminal backgrounds, over 75% of BJP’s 57 candidates 29 are criminals, Samajwadi 21 of 28, Congress 21 of 58, BSP 19 of 56, RJP 17 of 29 and AAP’s 8 of 52 contestants have declared criminal cases.
In Uttarakhand 130 of 626 (25%) contestants have criminal backgrounds and 13 of 70 constituencies have been declared ‘Red Alert’ wherein three or more contesting candidates have declared criminal cases. In Punjab of 468 candidates 173 (37%) have criminal antecedents. In Manipur 21% of 173 candidates are criminals.
What is it about taint and cleaning rajniti that has our netas scurrying for cover? Especially when they go blue in the face about ushering in Surf ki chamkaan wali politics? Go to any extent to prove (sic) their sincere endeavours? Yet when it comes to acting on their words, they feign ignorance and play dumb, blind and deaf.
In a milieu where power translates into a numbers game Parties brazenly nominate mafia dons and criminals as candidates as they convert muscle power into votes at gun point with illicit funds, emerging victorious over those with clean records. Consequently, racketeers and murderers fill the rogues’ gallery of power and fame.
This works on quid-pro-quo. Parties get unlimited funds to fight elections and criminals’ protection from law by blocking their cases from proceedings thereby delaying justice making it elusive and impossible to catch them, in return for loyalty.
Why do mafia dons invest large sums in getting a neta’s tag? It’s a ticket to continue extortions using political power and gain influence. Besides, returns on political investments are so high and profitable that criminals are disinclined to invest in anything else. Adding salt to wounds people have to suffer the discomfiture of criminal MP/MLAs legislating on their behalf. Sic.
Resulting in our jan sevaks dancing to their underworld benefactors tunes at the people’s cost. Thus, in apradhi-banne-netas democracy is being boxed in three stages — mafia box, cartridge box and ballot box! It is this mutual benefit and camaraderie between the criminal-Party nexus which is the cause célèbre for our netagan.
With money-muscle power continuing to bedevil democracy Courts too are helpless. Last July a rueful Supreme Court accentuated that taint continues to be the flavor of the season regardless of it ordering Parties to not field candidates with criminal antecedents in the Bihar Assembly polls 2020. And explain through published material how “qualifications or achievements or merit” of a candidate, charged with a crime, impressed it enough to cast aside the smear of his criminal background instead of a decent citizen.
Asserting, “There is unity in diversity. We have been telling the legislature to take action against candidates against whom charges have been framed but nothing has been done. Nothing is done and nothing will ever be done by any Party to prevent criminals from entering politics and standing for elections. Unfortunately, we can’t legislate.”
Ignoring this, August last BJP’s Karnataka Government dropped charges in 61 cases of Ministers including State Law Minister and MLAs only to be halted by the Supreme Court, “No prosecution against a sitting or ex MP/MLA shall be withdrawn without leave of the High Court.”
One could dismiss this politicization of crime as an evolving phase of our democratic process. But with our democratic system being usurped by petty thugs, dus numeriyas, criminals and mafia dons the only thing that matters is on whose side the criminal is: His or ours? All are same. Only the degrees differ.
From criminalisation of politics to politicisation of crime, India has come full circle. Whereby criminal-politicos get away like escape artists, thanks to legal delays, often abetted by political pressures, making convictions rather rare. Hence, the number of mafiaso-netas are rapidly multiplying in legislatures ushering in a new ‘don’ (dawn) wherein yesterday’s dons are today’s Right Honourables: a law unto themselves and all-powerful. With an MP-MLA tag, acting like a bullet-proof jacket from police, encounters and rivals.
Scandalously, criminal are crowding out honest candidates at national and State level. According to a recent report 45.5% ‘criminal’ candidates win against 24.7% with clean backgrounds. So in this self perpetuating system the growing Indian middle class is not averse to electing criminals if they become their patrons, flex muscle, terrorise constituents, keep them in check, provide protection, ration-Government jobs and deliver goods.
One ‘clean’ Chief Minister trumped me by arguing, “Just because a candidate has criminal antecedents doesn’t mean he is not doing social work. I have 22 Ministers with criminal backgrounds I don’t bother about a Ministers’ past. After joining my Government, they are not indulging in crimes and are ready to help suppress criminal activities. Ask the people why they have elected them.” How does one rebut his logic?
Clearly, rooting out malignancy of criminalization requires major surgery but India’s tragedy is that no Party national or regional wants to rid itself of this rot gorging on our body political. High time Parliament considers amending Representation of People Act, 1951 and framing a law which disallows candidates against whom charges have been framed in court from fighting polls. Alongside we need to educate voters and create enhanced awareness, increase democratic participation by creating right conditions for de-criminalisation of politics.
Remember, a democracy is only as good as the refinement of its people’s democratic sensibility. Instead of rooting for criminals our polity must compete to enhance sensibility. How many murder charges are required before one is considered unfit to represent the people of India? Are there no honest and capable netas? When will we stop hanging petty thieves and electing criminals to public office? Who will bell the criminal cat? (INFA)
Poonam I Kaushish