Poonam I Kushish
Q) Teacher: What is the role of Parliament in our Constitutional democracy?
A) Student: Parliament plays the vital function of deliberating matters of importance, examining bills and passing them into laws, overseeing the work of the Executive and State institutions and ensuring accountability of Government to this temple of democracy.
Teacher: Partly correct. Today it stands for hulla-gulla, pandemonium, walk-outs, coming to blows, breaking mikes, chairs and tables. Succinctly creating a tamasha.
Big deal! And why quibble about Parliament’s first week being a washout or the ugly spectacle of a TMC Rajya Sabha MP snatching IT Minister Vaishnav’s papers while speaking on the Pegasus spyware controversy followed by a heated exchange between him and Housing Minister Puri resulting in Marshals taking the MP out of the House.
Raising a moot point: If our Right Honourbles can behave like this and get away with just suspension from the session, why blame the aam aadmi for bedlam, being a public nuisance or road rage? After all, aren’t our Right Honourables supposed to lead by example and hold a beacon for others to follow?
But the story doesn’t end there. Last Tuesday a rueful Supreme Court underscored that taint continues to be the flavor of the season despite it ordering Parties to not field candidates with criminal antecedents in the Bihar Assembly polls last year. 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.
Hearing a contempt petition against Parties for failing to declare criminal antecedents of candidates during Bihar elections, the Court said: “There is unity in diversity. We have been telling the legislature to take action against the 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.”
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 safedi 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.
Shockingly, a whopping 2,556 MPs and MLAs from 22 States are accused in criminal cases as of September last. If former legislators are also included the number rises to 4,442. Presently, 233 of 539 or 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.
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. A 100% increase from 24% in 2004, 30% in 2009 and 34% in 2014.
Less said the better of States. In UP 143 (36%) of 403-MLAs, Bihar 142 (58%) of 243 MLAs face criminal charges of whom 70 (49%) have been charge-sheeted. In fact, UP has the highest number of MLAs facing criminal cases wherein of 1,217 pending cases, 446 are those of sitting legislators, 37% from BJP. Further, 35 sitting and 81 ex-MLAs stand accused of heinous crimes punishable with life term.
In Bihar 531 sitting and ex-MLAs are charge-sheeted of which 73 are punishable with life imprisonment. Followed by Kerala 333 cases, Odisha 331, Maharashtra 330 and Tamil Nadu 324. Arguably, with such legislators, how can we expect to remove crime from the country?
Alas, 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. The arrangement works on 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’s a ticket to continue extortions using political power, gain influence and ensure 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. Sadly, the number of mafiaso-politicos are rapidly multiplying in legislatures ushering in a new ‘don’ (dawn) wherein yesterday’s mafia dons are today Right Honourables: a law unto themselves and all-powerful. With an MP-MLA tag, acting 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 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.
Questionably, does the electorate really want an honest politician? 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.
Not a few chikna ghara leaders argue that just because a candidate has criminal antecedents doesn’t mean he is not doing social work. As a 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 does one rebut this logic?
One could have dismissed politico-criminalisation as a passing phase but the tragedy is that our democratic system has been usurped by criminals. Whereby the country is suffering from want of a “few good men” as some rulers act for personal political gains wasting taxpayers’ money by announcing outlandish schemes and subsidies and the country can go to hell.
Clearly, criminalisation of politics must be eschewed. 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 three questions. How many murder charges are required before one is considered unfit to represent the people of India? How long will our criminal-politicos slug it out for “bullet-proof jackets” — MP-MLA’s tag? Are there no honest and capable netas? Else be prepared today’s criminal king-makers may be tomorrow’s kings! (INFA)
Poonam I Kushish