Zia Haq, Hindustan Times New Delhi, April 17, 2014
Alleged killers, abductors, robbers and even a rapist are among those who will contest for a seat in the Lok Sabha in these elections despite a growing public campaign for cleaner politics. They make up 17% of the total number of contestants in the fray so far.
Data gleaned from mandatory declarations by candidates featuring in polling rounds held so far and the one slated for Thursday shows that the BJP tops the list with 34% of its 202 candidates declaring a criminal case against them while 23% among 193 Congress candidates have similar charges, according to the Association for Democratic Alliance (ADR), an advocacy group. Likewise, 16% of AAP’s 200 candidates and 18% of the BSP’s 207 candidates have had a brush with the law.
Last year, the Supreme Court barred convicted lawmakers from contesting an election for six years even if their convictions were under appeal. Yet, as political parties gird up for another dead-heat election, they have not hesitated in picking candidates with grave charges — offences that can attract a jail term of more than five years.
Criminality remains endemic to electoral politics. Findings from ADR show that a candidate with a criminal case is twice as likely to win an election (23%), compared to a candidate without any charges, whose chance was just 12%.
In the crucial fifth leg of the staggered elections scheduled for Thursday, 16% candidates with shady criminal records will test their political fortunes. About 10% of them face serious charges, such as assault, arson or rape. For instance, 27 face murder charges and another 12 have cases related to crimes against women. Dambale Rahul Dharma, an Independent from Pune constituency, faces a rape charge.
The National Election Watch and ADR screened 1,739 out of 1,761 candidates contesting in phase 5. The rest were not screened due to unclear or incomplete affidavits.
In Thursday’s round too, the BJP has the highest number of candidates with criminal cases at 29% (30 out of 105 candidates), followed by the Congress’s 22% (22 of 101), while 19% of BSP and 15% of AAP candidates are implicated in crimes.
A 2011 joint research by Toke Aidt of the University of Cambridge, Miriam A Golden, University of California LA and Devesh Tiwari of the University of California at San Diego showed political parties are more likely to select alleged criminal candidates when confronting greater electoral uncertainty and in highly competitive seats. Their statistical analysis shows that contrary to conventional wisdom, more competitive politics in India tends to throw up poorer rather than improved electoral accountability.
In India’s first-past-the-post election system, it often takes wealthy heavyweights to win polls. According to Manjari Katju of the University of Hyderabad, “socio-economic inequalities” and “uneven power equations” in society are deeper reasons behind criminalisation of politics.