Recent pre-poll violence in certain assembly constituencies of the Manipur valley clearly depicts the involvement of goons/hooligans in Manipur’s politics. In our tiny state Manipur, it is a well-known fact that many tainted candidates having criminal records have been elected in local bodies as well as in the state assembly.
By Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh
All politicians are crooks. At least, that is what a lot of people think in many countries. It is a reproach. In India, the world’s largest democracy, the symbiotic relationship between crime and politics raises complex issues. The nexus of crime and politics is quite apparent—and baffling—in India where 43% of its members of parliament have ongoing criminal cases and around 21% are facing charges that, if upheld, would merit prison time. These are the people that Indian voters put in power. Crime and politics in India are so intertwined that a ‘’clean politician’’ sounds like an oxymoron, a breed that no longer exists. This fact hits home even harder as the world’s largest democracy with 1.3 billion people, the second-most populous nation after China, gears up for a high-octane election in early 2022 in five states to determine the credibility of the BJP led NDA government in India. Democracy is thriving in India with about 912 million voters queuing up at over 900,000 polling stations to cast their ballots in 2019 to determine the fortunes of 8039 candidates representing 650 political parties. But all is not well, with the country’s polity.
Almost all the parties in India, led by the ruling party and main opposition, field tainted candidates. The analysis is based on affidavits submitted by legislatures, out of the total 4,896 MPs and MLAs in the country, the study analyzed affidavits of 4,845, of them including 768 of 776 affidavits of MPs and 4,077 of 4,120 MLAs.Nearly half of the newly elected Lok Sabah members (of 2019) have criminal charges against them, a 26% increase as compared to 2014, according to ADR. Of the 539 winning candidates, analyzed by ADR, as many as 233 MPs or 43% have criminal charges. Among the MPs in the present Lok Sabah, nearly 29% of the cases are related to rape, murder, and attempt to murder or crime against women. There is an increase of 109% (in 2019) in the number of MPs with declared serious criminal cases since 2009. On 24 October 2021, in a felicitation function, Shri N Biren Singh, Chief Minister of Manipur, said that with the approaching of 12th Assembly election in Manipur, violence is increasing each day. To prevent such instances, the State home department will issue an order for submission of licensed guns soon. He further said that to choose a candidate by the conscience of voters without any influence from anybody is the beauty of democracy. However, some intending candidates have led to pick up violent activities just to get votes forcefully. His statement simply points a finger at the fact that there are crime-centric candidates in Manipur polity too. Recent pre-poll violence in certain assembly constituencies of the Manipur valley clearly depicts the involvement of goons/hooligans in Manipur’s politics.In our tiny state Manipur, it is a well-known fact that many tainted candidates having criminal records have been elected in local bodies as well as in the state assembly.
The crime–politician nexus have invited opprobrium from no less than the country’s highest court. In September 2018, the court ordered the parliament to ‘’cure the malignancy’’ of criminalization of politics by making a law to ensure that persons facing serious criminal cases do not enter the political arena. It also advised that the ‘’political stream of politics be cleansed’’. Holding that the criminalization of politics is an extremely disastrous and lamentable situation. The five—judges constitution bench headed by erstwhile Chief justice Dipak Misra said’’ unsettlingly increasing trends has the propensity to’’ send shivers down the spine of constitutional democracy. The court added that the criminalization of politics was not incurable but the issue was required to be dealt with soon before it becomes fatal to democracy.
Our Indian democracy has been a steady increase in the level of criminalization creeping into Indian politics. This trend of disrupting constitutional ethos strikes at the root of a democratic form of government and makes citizens suffer; the judges said. Experts opine that a major reason why corruption is so entrenched in the system is that there is no stringent law that required political parties to revoke the membership of tainted candidates. Unless Parliament amends Article 102 of the Constitution and provisions of the People’s Act to disqualify unworthy candidates, nothing will change, admits High Court Lawyer and activist Sapna Narang. However, chances of the government doing so are slim because tainted candidates have clout and come with the Winability factor. In fact, so relaxed are the rules that currently, even candidates jailed for less than two years can contest elections. A quote by the BBC points out that criminal gets elected not only because many voters are ill-informed but also for sociopolitical reasons. Voters support criminals’ candidates in constituencies when the social divisions driven by caste and/ or religion are sharp and the government is failing to carry out its functions—delivering services, dispensing justice or providing security—in an impartial manner.ADR along with National election Watch analyzed the self-sworn affidavits of 542 of 543 winners in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and found that a candidate with a criminal background was almost twice as likely to win than a candidate with no criminal background. People feel legislatures with criminal backgrounds are powerful and will therefore get work done from bureaucracy-infested government offices—say a worker of a political party. In rural areas especially, people don’t care about the criminal cases of the candidates. If they feel, the candidate will make their lives simpler, they just vote for the candidate.
In fact, so rampant is corruption among politicians in the hinterlands, bedeviled by entrenched social and gender inequities, that sullied candidate often wear their disrepute as a badge of honor. In a classic case of life imitating art, Bollywood, the Indian film industry often portrays Robin Hood-esque criminal politician a protagonist. Many such movies have gone on to become hits. According to psychologist Prabha Jhanvi, a lecturer at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, this kind of cinema—with an overarching narrative of the good Samaritan/criminal politician who helps underdogs- resonates with Indian audiences. This is reflective of real-life where social divisions driven by caste/ religion run deep due to governance and administrative missteps. Another reason why criminalizing thrives in the political arena, according to experts, is because of prolonged trials in court and lower conviction rates. According to India Spend, a data–driven journalism website, in September 2018, only 6% of criminal cases against India’s MPs and MLAs ended in conviction, as per the data submitted by the central government to the Supreme Court of India. In 18 of 29 states and 2 of 7 union territories, there were no convictions for criminal cases against MPs and MLAs; the cases include murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, hate speech and criminal intimidation. The spiraling cost of election and an opaque election financing system characterized by parties and candidates under-reporting collections and expenses inevitably leads to parties preferring cash-lush candidates who do not represent a drain on the finite party coffers but instead contribute rents to the party, explains Milan Vaishnav, a political scientist. Many of these candidates are on the wrong side of Law. It all comes down to the money, doesn’t it? Indeed, there has been no serious attempt to cleanse the system as a flawed one suits all. An expert points out to tackle the root of the problem, India needs a cohesive approach to make its election financing system transparent, urge parties to become more democratic, and ensure that people have access to better services and an equitable justice delivery system. It is imperative that the parliament evolve a mechanism to keep criminal politicians out of the political fray and the people continue their struggle for the decriminalization of politics at every level of government. Else, soon, India’s claims to be the world’s largest democracy will ring hollow.
(Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh is Asst Prof JCRE Global College, Babupara, Imphal. He can be contacted at [email protected])