The Supreme Court’s order forcing political parties to publicise the criminal history of their candidates with reasons for fielding them has barely done anything in terms of cleaning up electoral politics, an analysis of self-sworn affidavits of candidates contesting Bihar polls shows.

The Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) scrutinised declarations made by 1,064 out of 1,066 candidates contesting in the first phase of Bihar elections to find that almost a quarter (23%) of them face serious criminal cases including murder, attempt to murder and rape.

Among major political parties, the RJD has fielded largest number of candidates (22) with serious criminal cases against them, followed by LJP (20), BJP (13), JDU (10) and Congress (9).

To check criminalisation of politics, the Supreme Court has made it mandatory for candidates to publicise their criminal antecedents aside from declaring it in poll affidavits. Last month, the Election Commission made it mandatory for candidates to publicise this thrice — first within four days of the last date of withdrawal of candidature, then within the fifth and eighth days of the last date of withdrawal, and lastly from the ninth until the last day of the campaign.

Political parties have been ordered to offer cogent justification for fielding candidates with a criminal history. According to ADR, political parties have not followed the SC order in spirit.

“The Supreme Court in its directions dated 13th February, 2020 had specifically instructed political parties to give reasons for such selection and why other individuals without criminal antecedents could not be selected as candidates. As per these mandatory guidelines, the reasons for such selection has to be with reference to qualifications, achievements and merit of the candidate concerned. Therefore, such unfounded and baseless reasons given by political parties like popularity of the person, does good social work, cases are politically motivated etc are not sound and cogent reasons for fielding candidates with tainted backgrounds. This data clearly shows that political parties have no interest in reforming the electoral system and our democracy will continue to suffer at the hands of lawbreakers who become lawmakers,” a press release issued by ADR states.

The RJD, for instance, has justified its choice of Anant Singh, who faces 38 criminal cases and is fighting elections on party ticket from Mokama, on grounds of popularity and winnability.

“He is more popular than any other candidate in the area. He is always ready to uplift the poor and down-trodden person of society. He is always ready to help the poor person of the area and that’s why many criminal cases were lodged against him,” the party has said on its website about Singh.
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