Criminalization of Politics in India: Recent Developments

Elections are the spirit of any democratic state; it is the most basic way to impose the public will.  In India, we follow the Parliamentary form of government therefore; we have general elections all over the nation every five years. Politics is an idea, which works in nexus with the group of people propagating it. This propagating group is called a political party. When these political parties contest for election and give tickets to candidates with a criminal background this is called the criminalization of politics. However, the criminalization of politics has many forms, the most serious and established form is the participation of candidates with a criminal background.

 In India, we advocate free and fair election we have Election Commission, an autonomous body that conducts elections in India. We spend millions of rupees in elections every year as several states have legislative elections at various times. But the reality is far from what is written in the constitution; the Indian election is now not about electing government and voters exercising their rights. Now it is about the quagmire of candidates, hungry for votes and political powers. Buying, threatening voters, booth capturing, bribing them to gain more votes has now become an integral part of the election in India. This has been a problem in the Indian Political System for decades, the nexus between the political parties and criminals must break if we have to have a healthy political and electoral process. It is a deeply rooted problem in the Indian political system which must be addressed as immediately as possible if not this will make the entire electoral procedure futile.

The criminalization of politics started way back, a couple of decades after gaining independence around the 1970s criminals started to tarnish Indian politics. The more winning possibility, influencing and threatening voters to get elected are major advantages why they easily get tickets from political parties. Back when it was started there was no legislation to prevent, nor the awareness in the general population to raise voice against it, because of which there is a drastic upswing in the percentage of candidates with criminal background into our political structure. The candidates with criminal backgrounds were around 24% in the 2004 general election which rose to 43% in the latest 2019 General election[1].

WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF CRIMINALIZATION OF POLITICS?

The political party which is to contest election must have capital and most importantly muscle power to influence people. The candidate with criminal background provides muscle power to the respective political party to strengthen its roots in a particular region.  The influence or fear of a criminal furnishes a strong voter base and ensures victory. The people who oppose are either bough; bribed or eliminated. This is done with power and unlawful means. Influencing the preference of voters with the caste-based reservation system prevailed all over the nation is another complication, people vote to the candidate of their caste irrespective of their criminal background. Ignorance of the criminal background by the general public is an accepted practice. A large section of voters is either bough or fear to raise their voice. The flow of money plays a vital role in the election campaign, as most of the time the money is obtained by illegal and unethical means. Extorting money from local business, blackmailing and harassing general public is how the cycle of money keeps running; almost all political party thrives in the election campaign on black money. The nexus of black money is crucial for election; the candidate who can raise a handsome sum of money is given preference by the party than a candidate who genuinely wants to serve the public. This makes the way easier for both, the party and the candidate as the candidate is self-financed the party won’t have to allocate money to the candidate and can even raise money for the party when the time comes.

  Lack of political understanding in the public is prompting this evil to grow into our electoral system. For a voter to distinguish between a qualified and strong candidate and a deplorable candidate is consequential for an election to successfully conclude. An ignorant voter is dangerous to a democratic nation. With a gigantic population and crore of voters, the Criminalization of politics is a grave and deep-rooted problem in India. With the rising cost of contesting an election, the political parties look for a candidate who is self-financed which most of the time is a candidate with a criminal background. Corruption in the present system assists this; the officials involved are equally responsible for the degradation of Indian politics. A dead person casting a vote, removing the indelible ink to cast vote again in the same election is not an uncommon event in the election process, the camaraderie between the bureaucracy and political party stimulates this wrongdoing in the system

With the total Member of Parliament being 539 in 17th Lok Sabah in the year 2019, 233 candidates have criminal cases against them this is an increase of 44% since 2009[2]. These numbers are a matter of concern for a country that is labeled as the ‘Largest Democracy’. The likelihood of winning for a candidate with a criminal background is considerably higher as compared to a candidate with a clean background. The gravity or heinousness of the crime should also be scrutinize the statistics are even more concerning when the category of dangerous crime is assessed. 159 MPs (around 29%) have registered crime against them in this category, case relating to rape, murder, culpable homicide, attempt to murder. In the year 2004, the percent of MPs with criminal cases elected to the parliament was 24% which rose to 30% in the next election[3].

 The situation of state election is also dismal, candidates with criminal background elected in the state legislature are also high those elected member called MLAs were chosen from each constituency within a state, the highest number comes from Uttar Pradesh where most of the sitting and former MLAs have criminal cases against them, while 141 MLA in the 2017 Legislative Assembly has registered criminal cases against them which is 35% of the total representatives elected. Candidates with serious criminal cases against them are 108, i.e. 27%.[4]

In the recent Bihar election, the candidates with criminal cases made up 70% of the total elected candidate. The fact is no party is ashamed to give tickets to a candidate with criminal background the responsibility lies on the shoulder of the general public to say No!

RECENT JUDGEMENTS AND REPORTS

Specific laws, judgments, and acts have been formed to deal with the issue of criminalization of politics but the ground reality remained unchanged over the years.

The Representation of people acts, 1951 was framed for smooth conduction of parliament election (Lok Sabah and Rajya Sabah) which also deals with the election of the state legislature. Section 8 Representation of people acts, 1951[5] of the act deals with the disqualification of candidates, the Supreme Court has given various judgments to tighten the grip on criminals entering politics. This law was framed to regulate election and to disqualify candidates with criminal cases and if convicted, the candidate cannot contest election for 6 years from the date of his release. Lack of proper implementation and long-pending cases and a low level of convection rates make this law irrelevant and ineffective. The Supreme Court has given series of Landmark judgments regarding the criminalization of politics in India.

Supreme Court in the case of Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms[6] held that the voters have the fundamental right to know about the details of the candidate who might get elected and hold public office. Thereafter, the Election commission was directed to ensure that all the contesting candidates submit an affidavit disclosing pending criminal cases against them. The information also includes the status of their case whether they are acquitted/ convicted/ pending. Also, if they were convicted what the time and quantum of punishment awarded. Later, in the case of Peoples Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India[7], the amendment in 33B of the Representation of peoples act was challenged. The amendment brought by the government nullified the judgment of Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms, but the apex court held the amendment unconstitutional. A step further in reforms was taken with the case of Lily Thomas v. Union of India[8] where the division bench held that the member of parliament or member legislative assembly convicted of crimes and awarded a minimum sentence of 2 years will be immediately disqualified from the date of sentencing the court further also struck down the 3 months time period which was given to the lawmakers to appeal against the judgment pronounced. The law commission of India submitted its report on electoral disqualification to the ministry of law and justice the issues reported were disqualification of candidates and filing of a false affidavit. The crux of the report was that the current convection laws are unable to curb the criminalization of politics the rare convection and delay in judgment were the primary reasons. In the Public interest Foundation v. Union of India, the five-judge bench unanimously observed that the court does not have the power to disqualify candidates against whom the charges have been framed and the court respects the division of power. The bench asked the parliament to frame laws regarding the issue to make voters form an informed decision and to prohibit criminals from entering politics. The apex court gives direction until a law is not framed in this matter. The same decision was re-iterated in 2020 in Rambabu Singh Thakur v. Sunil Arora[9] where the court insists on the following of its previous order given in 2018 

The Bihar election held in 2020 was the first election held with the implementation of Supreme Court directives, the candidates have to publicize their criminal record in local and national newspaper along with posting it on the respective social media handles and official website of the party, within 48 hours of getting ticket form the party. The political parties will also have to state the reason for the selection of the particular candidate with criminal background with winnability cannot be the sole reason. With some parties still not obeying the order and doing the same, many parties did publicize the details. Surprisingly, even after the Supreme Court directive, the number of the candidate elected with a criminal background is significantly higher. In phase one of the elections itself, the candidate with a criminal background made up to 31% and with serious charges 24%[10].These stats put a question mark on the type of society we are living in. The Supreme Court has given directives but now it is our responsibility to make our electoral process better and clean. The picture of west Bengal election also reflect the same problem in the 1st phase of election 25% candidate have criminal cases against them and 22% have serious cases filed against them. [11]

CONSEUENCES

When lawmakers become lawbreakers the trust of people in the governance breaks. The rise in criminal candidates encourages the flow of unaccounted black money in the Indian political scenario system. This forms a bad opinion of Indian politics as violence, crime oriented among the younger generation to enter into politics to taste power and influence. The voters develop a feeling of apathy towards the election system. The objective of electing a government is not fulfilled a good governance model and development is still only on paper and in the manifesto of the party and not in reality. The reputation of India is also at stake when it comes to the criminalization of politics. India is now no longer seen as a progressive and a model for other democratic nation, our electoral system needs immediate strategic reforms.

WAY FORWARD

We need more concrete laws to battle this problem; awareness at the ground level is the most fundamental thing which the general public must-have. Their votes will play a decisive role in shaping the politics of the nation. Reform is a continuous process with the present system it is very difficult for us to decriminalize the political system of India. Giving more powers to the election commission of India, auditing the financial asset, and putting a limit on the expenditure during election campaigns. Hate speech and causing unrest should be dealt with an iron fist. All of these combined will help in monitoring and effective enforcement of the Supreme Court’s directive and other rules. The legislature must also bring laws to increase transparency and accountability in the election and remove this deep-rooted problem. Government agencies responsible for the smooth conduction of elections need a mechanism to tackle this. A better funding structure should be proposed in the election for the parties, which should be monitored regularly. A speedy hearing of disputes regarding state legislative and union legislature though the high courts are empowered to deal with these disputes under section 80 of R.P. act, 1951 the conduction of election, the high courts have to pronounce judgments within six months of filing case but these cases take years, even full time of the house expires until the judgment comes.  

The citizen should be themselves equipped with better knowledge and awareness as voters, a proper discharge of their rights and duties is essential for a better political environment, standing up against the thug- culture prevailed in the Indian politics can only be removed when the citizen wants to. The present system of first past the post system should also be reviewed; it can be replaced by two- ballot system under which the candidate is declared elected on majority votes. If no candidate secures 50% of the total votes, the second round of voting takes place where only the top two candidates contest. This process makes it difficult for a candidate with a criminal background to win; the better candidate comes out from this process of election.The executive, the judiciary, and the legislature can only play a limited role the responsibility lies on our shoulders to bring the change.  Since corruption and criminalization are so widespread there are a situation was no desirable candidate is contesting election from a particular area the option of NOTA should be exercised by the voters. Negative or neutral voting can further result in re-polling when there are no eligible candidates.

CONSLUSION

From the analysis above it is quite clear that there has been a steep decline in the Indian Political system over the ears. Money and muscle power, corrupt practices are freely exercised in the election by the political parties. Several measures have been taken by the judiciary and Election commission to keep a check on the criminalization of politics in India but have not made significant progress.  Judgment and honest measures are tackled through legislation and strict laws are broken or bypassed. Right to information can be used to have a check on the candidates, source of income, criminal background, and expenditure. The nexus between the political party and the gangster is what we need to destroy. The lack of political will in the Indian population needs to be addressed and the role of the opposition is decisive here.  The country must stand united against this; we can overcome this only by staying united.

Author: Amey Vikrama Singh Sikawar.


[1]  Association for Democratic Reform, “ Lok Sabha Election 2019 analysis of criminal background, financial, education, gender and other detail of Winner (2019)

 [2] Association for Democratic Reform, “ Lok Sabha Election 2019 analysis of criminal background, financial, education, gender and other detail of Winner” (2019)

[3] Association for Democratic Reform, “ Lok Sabha Election 2019 analysis of criminal background, financial, education, gender and other detail of Winner” (2019)

[4] Association for Democratic Reform, “Report on Financial and Criminal Cases Details of MLAs and MPs of Uttar Pradesh (2004- 2019)” (2019)

[5] The representation of  the people act, 1951 s.80

[6]  AIR 2001 Delhi 126, 2000 (57) DRJ 82

[7] AIR 2003 SC 2363

[8]  AIR 2013 SC2662

[9]  AIR 2020 SC952

[10] Association for democratic reforms,  “ Bihar election 2020”  (November , 2020)

[11] Association for democratic reform , “ West Bengal 2021”  (March 2021)

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