The Preamble of the Indian Constitution begins with the phrase, WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, symbolizing the spirit of democracy in the country. This depicts, democracy in the form of representation of people is what exists in our country.
The members of the legislature are mandated to represent the concerns and aspirations of the people they represent. However, the present scenario of the country portrays a different picture. The entry of criminals into the Parliament has created disorder, pandemonium in both the Houses by showing their muscle power instead of keen intelligence which they completely lack. There is a prevalence of crisis of empathy, integrity, fairness, quality and intellectual capability among the members of the legislature. The nexus between political parties and criminals is becoming more and more pertinent, posing numerous challenges and difficulties in front of the Election Commission of India in holding free & fair elections in the country and thus portends grave threat to the very existence of India and Indian democracy in the world.
What is Criminalization of Politics?
The entry of criminals into the political parties or into politics and legislature, including parliament through elections & use of criminal tactics and techniques to influence political processes & procedures is an attempt to criminalise politics of a society or a region. The politicians thrive on the basis of muscle power provided by the criminals. The nexus helps in carrying out criminal activities under the patronage of administration & politicians. The money acquired through such activities is shared between the partners. This money is further used by the mafias to build contracts with administrators and new groups of politicians. It helps in spreading and building the network of muscle power which is simultaneously used by the politicians for their elections purposes. Thus, the nexus helps in building an exclusive and inaccessible empire of their own. In simple words, politics and the political powers are used for nefarious gains which bring adverse effect on the functioning of Indian democracy.
The roots of the criminalization of politics derive deep from the defects of our socio-political systems. Caste, religion, absence of political accountability, quota system, illiteracy, poverty, corruption, vote banks, lack of efficient governance, under development, unemployment, lack of ethics, politics of coalition, week civil society, lack of awareness & sense of responsibility as an Indian citizen and money plays the major role in influencing the growth of criminalization of politics. The role of criminals in politics is increasing every day because of their active participation in politics. Smugglers, hijackers, hardcore criminals, all join politics today and surprisingly they not only successfully contest in the elections but also come out as a winner and become part of the administration. The nexus between crime and politics have become so intertwined in our country that a “clean politician” sounds like an oxymoron – a breed that has gone for extinction.
Interestingly, researchers’ analysis revealed that the nature of this nexus changed back in the 1970s. Instead of politicians having the suspected links with criminals, as was the picture earlier, it was individuals with extensive criminal backgrounds who started entering into politics. This was confirmed in the Vohra Committee Report of 1993 and in the report of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) of 2002. The Vohra Committee report pointed towards the rapid growth of criminal networks which successively developed into an elaborate system of contact between the bureaucrats, the politicians and the media persons. According to a Consultation Paper of 2002 published by the NCRWC, reported that criminals were then seeking direct access to power by becoming legislators & ministers themselves.
Criminalization of Politics can be contemplated from two different perspectives. In narrow sense, it refers to the direct entry & interference of criminals in State legislatures & Parliament of India. While on wider prospect it refers to the interference of criminals in politics either directly or indirectly through financing candidates, booth capturing, providing anti-social manpower, providing muscle power services, contract killing of rival candidates, beside campaigning or canvassing for candidates contesting in the elections. Since the last two decades, competitive use of antisocial forces for mobilizing party funds, managing of elections, organizing various meetings & conferences and recruiting workers at the lower level from among anti-social elements has been in increase in multiple folds. The key reason is taking services of criminals by the political parties for winning elections. Previously, criminals used to lend support from outside but now they themselves have entered into the electoral arena & have become ministers and members of the houses. Thus there is a new phenomenon in the Indian politics known as “Tainted ministers.”
The Present Scenario of Criminalization in Politics
India can boastfully claim itself to be the largest democracy of the world but cannot stake a claim to be the most acclaimed democracy of unblemished representative. The reason is the steady and undeterred increase in the number of candidates with criminal cases over the years in the elections in both parliament and in state assemblies. As per reports of Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), in 2009, the proportion of such candidates stood at 15% while the number rose to 17% in 2014 and to 19% in the 2019 election. More worrying is the grim picture that portrays 13% of the contested candidates of 2019 election are accused of heinous crimes that includes, kidnapping, murder, attempt to murder, rape and other crimes against women.
For a democratic country like India, it is shameful to see that 30% of the elected members of the Lok Sabha in 2009, 34 % of the elected members of 2014 and 43% of the elected members of the 17th Lok Sabha to have criminal cases against their names. The severity of the malignancy is better discerned from the frightening picture that 29 per cent of the elected members of the 17th Lok Sabha are charged of serious crimes.
In India, there are no such laws which would bar an individual having criminal cases against him from contesting elections, hence those people who are facing trials even for heinous crimes are free to contest in the elections. As the Indian Judiciary is over-burdened and takes a long time for resolving cases, political parties feels emboldened to unhesitatingly & unashamedly field any number of candidates despite having criminal records if the chances of winning remains bright. An analysis done by ADR revealed that candidates having criminal charges against them had double the chances of winning in comparison to those candidates with no criminal background. Such candidates having criminal records usually keep the ability to finance their own election, bring in substantive resources and increase the vote bank for their respective parties and thereby substantially increase the winning probability. Subsequently, the expectations from such candidates increase whenever they start winning which ultimately hard hits the society. Moreover, often voters view such candidates through a narrow prism – they feel that legislatures having criminal backgrounds are powerful and hence shall get the works done from bureaucracy-infested government offices. In the rural areas, people hardly care about criminal cases. They will never hesitate to vote for a candidate with criminal background if they think or are made to believe that the candidate will make their lives easier and simpler. Whatever the causes reasons may be, these unhealthy tendencies in our democratic system reflect the poor image of the nature of India’s state institutions & the quality of its elected representatives.
Impact of Criminalization of Politics
India follows a socialistic-democratic republic form of governance with a flavour of mixed economy. The governance in India in based on universal suffrage & a socialistic prototype with public sector having the commanding heights. No fault was observed in the system but the members engaged in governing the country failed the system because of remaining rigid while forming the policies and implementing them thereafter. Rigidity in approach, favouritism, inefficiencies, frigid bureaucracy and vested interests of politicians are mainly responsible in bringing down the system to the nadir of inequality & misgovernance.
These inequalities and inequities have vitiated the democratic form of governance. The society has gone into the command of rich people having huge unaccounted money and large poverty stricken section of the society are ready to cast their votes for money. It is a shocking revelation that often the leaders of several poverty stricken areas offer the poor people money in exchange of their votes. And as soon as coming to power, these people make more money than they had spent for elections through unhealthy and illegal means.
Thus, the election system damages the country democratic system through criminality, muscle power, ramification of money power and false promises that helps in misleading the poor and illiterate voters. Such criminalization of politics negatively impacts the whole economy, society, politics, criminal justice system of the country etc.
Economic Impact – Criminalization of politics have immensely affected the economic fibre of our country. The biggest gift from criminalization of politics is the infusion of black money into the economy. Political parties are often backed by rich people, business typhoons and mafias in election campaigns. These people spend a huge amount of money behind the contestants to make them win the elections. As soon as they win and become the leader, they are used by those mafias to earn more money than what was spent through unhealthy and illegal activities. The politicians are left with no other choices but to follow what they demand. All such nefarious activities lead to infusion of black money into the market and thus the economic well-being of the country gets sacrificed for ulterior political motives.
Such activities brings stagnation of infrastructural and developmental projects, decelerate the pace of economic development, increases the rate of unemployment, includes inefficiency, bureaucratization, violence, corruption, sectarianism etc. Few spheres and instances where presence of criminalization of politics was seen to have hit the country’s economy at large were – Control of Big Industrial Houses, Politics over nuclear deal, closure of Ratan Tata’s Airlines project, closure of Tata’s Nano project in Bengal, tussle between political parties over Enron Power project in Maharashtra, politics over formation of dams which were not able to materialize due to lack of political consensus, various scams that lead to huge financial loss to government and infused huge amount black money to the economy. It is because of this criminalization of politics that had put India at the top in the list of black money holders in the Swiss Banks.
Social Impact – By social impact we mean the effect that an activity brings on the social fabric of a community or society and well-being of individuals and family. Criminalization of politics only brings in negative impact in the society. The political parties give preferences to vote banks rather than giving importance the social development of the country which have numerous negative impacts like growth of mafias, emergence of new states, demands for reservation by various sections of society, rise of muscle power and money power, hindrance in social developments etc.
Political Impact – Criminalization of politics adversely effects the political environment of the country by creating vacuum in strong leaderships, strengthening the nexus between criminal & politicians, developing multiple parameters for political parties and promotes politics of opportunism and bribing voters in exchange of cash and freebies.
Other than having economic, social and political impacts, criminalization of politics also brings adverse impact on the judiciary, police institution, investigating agencies, Parliament, bureaucracy and even on the workings of the media.
Efforts by Supreme Court
The Supreme Court of India has made some landmark judgements to address the issue of criminalization of politics. In 2002, it made it obligatory for all candidates to submit an affidavit disclosing all cases registered, if any, against them before the returning officer. Then, in 2013, orders were passed to install NOTA (None of The Above) button in the EVMs. This decision was intended to force the political parties to think before giving election tickets to the tainted. In the same year, by another significant order the Supreme Court ended the statutory protection of the convicted legislature from immediate disqualification. After this, another landmark judgement was passed by the Supreme Court in 2014 where it directed all the subordinate courts to complete all trials on cases involving elected representatives within a year. In 2017, the Supreme Court again asked the centre for framing a scheme to appoint special courts that would exclusively deal with cases against politicians. Subsequently in 2018, the Supreme Court again came out with an order that mandated the political parties & candidates to publicise the pending criminal cases against them in print as well as through electronic media, and that too not only once but thrice after filing the nomination. This was done to help the illiterate as well as educated voters to find out criminal antecedents of the candidates and to narrow down the voters choice or vote for NOTA. However, even these landmark judgements were not sufficient enough in deterring the legislature with dubious credentials. If criminalization of politics needs to be stopped or candidates with criminal backgrounds are to be eliminated or disqualified from participating in the elections, the parliament needs to bring in an amendment for Representation of People Act of 1951.
However, this denouement is still a pie in the sky considering the composition of the Lower House of the Parliament where a significant percentage of members are facing serious charges. Unfortunately, this is a consequence of structural problem in Indian democracy & the nature of the Indian state. Although, the institutions of the state are present and are subject to the electoral will of the citizens, but, they are still relatively weak & lackadaisical in governance & in delivering of public goods, which let cynical voters to elect representatives despite their dubious credentials without considering their ability to work on a patronage system. Judicial pronouncements are necessary for making it difficult for the candidates with criminal records to contest in election. Only enhanced awareness & increased democratic participation can fabricate the right conditions indispensable for the decriminalisation of politics.
Recommendation to Curb Criminalization of Politics
The nexus between criminals and politicians is the most intimidating issue for the future of Indian politics. It is very essential that every section of the Indian society stands up and fight every adverse influence, political or executive, to protect the democracy of the country. To curb criminalization of politics, here are a few recommendations:-
- The most necessary condition for curbing criminalization of politics is having a strong political will of all the political parties towards the initiative. The foremost thing for the political parties to do is to stop recruiting individuals with criminal charges against them. An open minded effort and full commitment towards conducting free & fair poll is most essential. Only this can shift the importance towards selecting a person with personality from selecting someone by seeing his winning capacity.
- Political parties need to be made more accountable to the public. This is possible by bringing in greater transparency in campaign financing and through framing more effective rules and regulations. Fund allotted to MPs and MLAs under local area development should be given in two phases. Based on the accounts of expenditure of first phase, the fund allotted for the second phase should be given. This would increase transparency and accountability in the process and eliminate corruptions and unnecessary expenditures.
- Authority of auditing the financial accounts of the political parties should be given to the Election Commission of India and the audit report must be brought under the Right to Information act.
- Quick disposal of pending cases in the courts will help in preventing candidates with criminal background from participating in the elections. Fast track courts may be introduced for speedy disposal of such cases.
- Common citizens can also play their role in preventing criminals into legislature by rejecting their candidature. However, for this political education in required besides being alert and intelligent.
- Another very important recommendation remains, as mentioned earlier, amendment of Representation of People Act, 1951 to debar candidates having any magnitude of criminal charges from contesting in elections. It is also necessary to set minimum educational qualification for the aspirants of State Legislative Assembly & Parliament.
It would the greatest gift from any government that targets and becomes successful in rooting out this dangerous terrorism of criminalization of politics from the Indian democracy. Simultaneously, our judicial system also needs to stand up and fight against this before it becomes fatal to the country’s democracy. The judicial system must not wait any further for the unwilling Parliament to bring in strong laws to accomplish decriminalization of politics or else this dangerous terrorism of criminalization of politics will severely threat the basic structure of the our constitution. Judiciary’s stand is very important because it need to remember that the dictum – ‘people get the government they deserve’, also applicable on itself.