While discussing the findings of his book, ‘When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics’ at an event, Milan Vaishnav explained that with the rising cost of Indian elections, political candidates having illicit wealth and criminal networks manage to get into decision-making roles. A recent survey conducted by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) of more than 2.7 lakh people across 534 Parliamentary constituencies reveals that 41.3 per cent respondents accepted that distribution of cash, liquor, gifts etc. was an important factor behind voting for a particular candidate in an election.

The governments in our country do not seem keen on reducing the number of candidates having criminal records. In a judgment in the Union of India vs Association for Democratic Reforms and another in 2002, the Supreme Court directed that candidates must declare their financial and educational status and any criminal record while contesting elections. The judgment did not go down well with political parties and the Union government brought an ordinance to nullify it. Taking a strong stand, the apex court struck down the ordinance as unconstitutional.

While the issues of women reservation and empowerment of females gain traction as the elections approach closer, political parties do not seem interested in applying the same in letter and spirit. Another study by ADR reveals an interesting fact that, between 2013 and 2018, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gave tickets to 47 candidates who declared cases of crime against women pending against them, topping the list of parties fielding candidates accused in having committed crime against women. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress were on the second and third spot, giving 35 and 24 tickets respectively.

We often see reports in the media noting the rise of politicians having criminal cases pending against them. Besides this, we see people talking about the need to make politics free of candidates tainted with criminal records. Despite all the awareness and discussion, why do people still vote for such candidates?

According to the study by ADR, in relation to voting candidates with criminal antecedents, 36.67 per cent of voters felt that they vote for such candidates because they are unaware of his/her criminal records.

The study showed that 35.89 per cent of voters were also willing to vote for a candidate with criminal records if the candidate had done good work in the past.

Caste and religious considerations are also a key factor for 35.23 per cent of voters in choosing candidates with criminal records.

In the opinion of 34.75 per cent voters, people vote for candidates with criminal records because they feel that the cases against such candidates are not of serious nature.

Money, too, plays a very important role with 34.23 per cent voters accepting that generous spending in election campaigning by the candidate is one of the key factors.

A large number of voters, 72.97 per cent knew that the distribution of cash, gifts etc. is illegal and 37.25 per cent said that they were aware of instances where such inducements were offered to voters in return of their votes.

Although, 97.86 per cent voters felt that candidates with criminal backgrounds should not be in Parliament or State Assembly, only 35.20 per cent knew that they could get information on criminal records of the candidates.

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