The Association for Democratic Reforms in Maharashtra and Maharashtra Election Watch brought out a report on Tuesday, on the self-sworn affidavits of 28 candidates contesting biennial elections to the Maharashtra Legislative Council to be held next week.

Twenty-five per cent of candidates had criminal records, 14 per cent have declared serious criminal cases, with the number hitting an even 67 percent on a party-wise analysis. As the dust of disruption from the black money uprooting settles on the rural and urban Indian countryside alike, the question everyone has been asking is: “Yes, but who holds the political parties accountable?” For their funding, for the decisions they are making and taking, for who leads them, and who gets tossed aside. Are they audited, and their funds legitimized at source? The questions are supremely justified.

The political party in India is uniquely positioned in a space of zero accountability. While corporate institutions, the judiciary, the stock market, education, public service, even gram panchayats and cooperative housing societies have codes of conduct and guidelines and by-laws, the political party as an institution, while being the bedrock of a democracy, is the least democratic of institutions in itself.

If Rahul Gandhi will be President of the Indian National Congress shortly, it is because his mother was one, his father before that, his grandmother and his great-grandfather before that. Nobody in the INC has a choice or hope, or a voice or a vote, against such a towering legacy of nepotism. No political party pretty much, except the BJP, has any democratic processes within them to elect leaders to positions of power. Leaders have no retirement age in any other party—at least the BJP siphons them off into the Margadarshak Mandal, a political old-age home.

In a rare moment of allegiance to process, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena headed by Raj Thackeray rolled out an ambitious plan to recruit candidates via exams, held in Mumbai, Thane, and surrounding centers. Though it didn’t last, there was at least a flicker of desire to clean up the electoral system from time to time in specific parties.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that the old way of ‘no questions asked’ won’t wash with an electorate that is demanding accountability from the media, the judiciary, financial and political institutions.

When politics can finger the do-gooding NGO and religious trusts to track funds, it’s time political parties offered their own heads to the accountability guillotine. At least one worthy ought not to hesitate.

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