The reason many criminals enter politics is to gain influence and ensure that cases against them are dropped or not proceeded with. They are able to make it big in the political arena because of their financial clout. Political parties tap criminals for funds and in return provide them with political patronage and protection. As the Times of India pointed out: “Indeed, today, far from shrinking at the thought of harboring criminal elements, parties seek them out judging the muscle and money combination, they represent to be of enormous value. Rough estimates suggest that in any state election 20% of candidates are drawn from criminal backgrounds. For the parties, it means overflowing coffers and unlimited funds to fight elections and for the criminals it means protection from the law and respect in the eyes of society.”

Another reason why political parties are not averse to fielding mafia dons is that winability, not merit or experience, determines who gets to contest elections. And mafia dons and other powerful gangsters have shown that they can convert their muscle power into votes often at gun point. Voters in many parts in the country are forced to vote for the local strongman. The reign of terror that these criminals have spread in their area of operations ensures that they win the seat for the party.

An indomitable Mr. T N Sheshan tried his best to cleanse the system, hut he failed Mr. Sheshan’s successor, Mr. Gill faced the same problem. The Ex Chief Election Commissioner Mr. Lingdoh also found himself in such a pitiable position, that he has no concrete remedy to cleanse the system, but to appeal the voters: ‘Not to vote for the criminals. Mr. T S Krishnamurthy, former the Chief Election Commissioner, faced the same dilemma. Most of the dreaded dacoits of Chambal or Murena valley were driven to crime as a result of their own victimization or because of some social, economic or personal causes. But, for the modern criminals turned politicians, crime has become a way of life and most of them thrive with the blessing of the senior politician, ministers and even the chief ministers and union ministers.

A virtual impression seems have gained ground that you could commit crime and get away with it, if you have political patronage at the proper level.

The police dare not to proceed against you or if having Initiated an action shall drag away their feet to defeat the ends of justice. With politics and crime intertwined, bureaucracy and the police have also become-part of nexus. This unholy affinity is having a malignant effect over the public life and poses a threat to the democratic structure of the country.

No one wants to vote for a criminal. And yet for years criminals have been using our electoral system to enter politics with citizens hopelessly looking on. Until recently our laws sanction election officials asking candidate’s for detailed information about their criminal and financial backgrounds, let alone making this information available to the public before the polls began.

But, as India went to her largest election exercise over this year, the balance has perhaps begun to shift in favour of voters. India’s 2004 elections are the first and the largest national election exercise that is being tough under the new election disclosure rules instituted in 2003. Candidates for Parliament and State Assemblies are now required to submit sworn affidavits along with their nomination papers giving information about their criminal, financial and educational backgrounds.

Components of Criminalization of Politics

Muscle Power The influence of muscle power in Indian politics has been a fact of life for a long time. The manner, in which different political parties have functioned, particularly on the eve of periodic election, involves the free use of musclemen and Dada’s to influence the attitude and conduct of sizable sections of the electorate. The Panchayats elections, like other elections in the recent past, have demonstrated once again that there can be no sanity in India as long as politics continues to be based on caste and community.

Gangsters The politicians are thriving today on the basis of muscle power provided by criminals. The common people, who constitute the voters, are in most cases too reluctant to take measures that would curtail the criminal activities. Once the political aspect joins the criminal elements the nexus becomes extremely dangerous. Many of politicians chose muscle power to gain vote bank in the country, and they apply the assumption that, if we are unable to bring faith in the community then we can generate fear or threat to get the power in the form of election.

Money Power The Elections to Parliament and State Legislatures are very expensive and it is a widely accepted fact that huge election expenditure if the root cause for corruption in India. A candidate has to spend lakhs of rupees to get elected and even if he gets elected, the total salary he gets during his tenure as an MP/MLA will be meager compared to his election expenses. How can he bridge the gap between the income and expenses? Publicly through donations, secretly through illegal means. The expenditure estimation for an election estimated as Rs.6 per voter as election expenditure, for 600 million voters and calculation of all the expenses in a general election estimated around Rs.2000 crore. Then, there is the period between elections. This requires around Rs.250 crore. Then, there are state elections and local elections. All told, the system has to generate around Rs.5000 crore in a five year cycle Rs.1OOOcrore on average each year. Where is this money to come from? Only criminal activity can generate such large sums of untaxed funds. That is why you have criminals in politics. They have money and muscle, so they win and help others in their party win as well.

Criminalization of Politics in the 15th Lok Sabha at a Glance

Election Commission of India has recently in May 2009, conducted general elections for 16th Lok Sabha at 543 constituencies all over India, Let us have a look at the status of criminalization data in Indian politics.

2004 2009 Increase %Increase
MPs with criminal records 128 160 22 17.2%
Total criminal cases on MPs 429 412 -17 -4%
MPs with serious criminal records 55 72 17 30 9%

Since last 15 years, not a single election has conducted peacefully without use of money or muscle power and domestic violence. Sometimes rival candidates got killed in a bid to have the elections cancelled. All these acts of lawlessness and violence have become possible because of the growing links between many politicians and criminal/anti-social elements.

Criminalization of politics in India has attained a stage, where it needs serious attention from the citizens, government and political parties as there was a steady decline in values of all sections of our society. Criminalization of politics has led to immense pressure on functioning of political institution. The worst part of picture is that ‘criminal record’ becomes an essential qualification for entry into politics. In India politics is not a social service anymore, instead it emerged as a lucrative profession or business.

The Solution

Disclosure of Criminal Antecedents of Candidates Suggestions

In its report on Proposed Election Reforms, 2004, the Election Commission of India recommended that an Amendment should be made to Section 125A of the RP Act, 1951 to provide for more stringent punishment for concealing or providing wrong information on Form 26 of Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 to minimum two years imprisonment and removing the alternative punishment of assessing a fine upon the candidate.

Eligibility of Candidates with Criminal Cases Pending against them Suggestions

The Election Commission proposed in its 2004 report that Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 should be amended to disqualify candidates accused of an offence punishable by imprisonment of 5 years or more even when trial is pending, given that the court has framed charge against the person. In the report, the commission addresses the possibility that such a provision could be misused in the form of motivated cases by the ruling party. To prevent such misuse, the commission suggested a compromise whereas only cases filed prior to six months before an election would lead to disqualification of a candidate. In addition, the commission proposed that candidates round guilty by a Commission of Enquiry should stand disqualified.

To check the rot, several committees and commissions have been appointed for electoral reforms and to look into the gravity of matter. It seems that establishing committees/commissions becomes a routine activity of Indian Government or we say that it is a new trend in vogue! These committees have suggested several measures like T N Seshan in 1992, the then Chief Election Commissioner of India aimed at eradicating criminalization of politics. With the efforts of Election Commission in India, now declaration of all charge pending against a political aspirant becomes obligatory through an affidavit along with nomination form. There is a limit on election spending during campaign etc. The concept of ‘Judicial Activism’ is also worth mentioning in this issue. But, still a has to be done to stem rot. However, law alone cannot clean the electoral system.

But, there are certain pitfalls we should avoid. This should not be seen as a struggle between the people and the political parties. Politics is a noble endeavour. There cannot be democracy without robust politics and strong parties. Parties have a difficult job in our diverse society and very often the politicians are as much victims of a vicious cycle as they are villains. Revulsion of politics is dangerous. Very often they are captive in the hands of politics which dominate the electoral scene in a first-past-the-post system. Our parties are striving hard to sustain our democracy against great odds. They need our full support in this endeavour.

We are confident, however, that our parties and legislators will exhibit the requisite courage, wisdom and foresight to accept this verdict of the Supreme Court and use it as a launching pad for engineering far-reaching and vital electoral and governance reforms.

Neither should this be viewed as a turf battle between Parliament and Judiciary. No democrat can question the supremacy of elected legislature in law making. Equally, the judiciary has the ultimate responsibility to interpret the Constitution and uphold Fundamental Rights. True, there is concern about judicial usurpation of executive and legislative authority and those concerns are legitimate. But, the campaign for electoral reforms is the wrong case to contest judicial role.

The enormous problem of the nexus between criminals and politician cannot be ignored any longer. The submission of affidavit may have some deterrent effect, but seems as it will also result in a futile exercise as in India, votes are being cast on the basis of caste, creed and religion. The poor illiterate people of this country still vote to their caste man or to the man of fellow religion ship, or to the fellow who belongs to their region. Moral values ethics have long been vanished from the political arena of our country, but we cannot have such an indifferent attitude. We shall have to find a solution to eradicate the menace for which we are ourselves also responsible to a great extent.

In a democratic country, all the powers lie in the hands of the voters that are the general public. An awakening among the general mass can only show the right place to such criminal politicians.