Arun Kumar and Deeksha Bhardwaj

Despite the presence of a large number of candidates with criminal antecedents contesting the Bihar assembly elections, compliance with Election Commission (EC) guidelines in the backdrop of a Supreme Court order this year to rein in the practice remains half-hearted.

A report published by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) shows that there has been a rise in the number of candidates with criminal antecedents compared to 2015, despite the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year asking political parties to justify such nominations.

“Out of the 3,722 candidates analysed in Bihar Assembly elections 2020, 1201 (32%) candidates have declared criminal cases against themselves,” states the report. “In 2015 Bihar Assembly Elections, out of 3,450 candidates analysed, 1,038(30%) had declared criminal cases against themselves.”

There has also been a rise in the number of candidates with serious criminal cases, with 915(25%) declaring such cases this year, as compared to 796 (23%) candidates in 2015.

The EC directive sought greater accountability from political parties to check the criminalization of politics. It requires candidates and parties to mandatorily publicise pending criminal cases through advertisements in a local and a national newspaper besides social media platforms. It also requires parties to explain the reasons for fielding the candidates.

In the three-phase Bihar elections, compliance with guidelines has been poor, although the information is required to be furnished within 48 hours of the selection of candidates and not less than two weeks before the first date for filing of nominations.

In the first phase (on October 28), out of 1,066 candidates in the fray, 327 submitted information on pending criminal cases. Of that number, 104 candidates did not publish any advertisements on the cases pending against them. According to ADR, only four political parties – Janata Dal-United, or JD (U), Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) – listed the reasons for fielding candidates with a criminal background.

In the second phase of voting on Tuesday, the percentage of candidates with criminal antecedents has gone up from 31% in the first phase to 34%. Of the 1,463 candidates in the fray, 502 have reported criminal cases against themselves with 389 (27%) having cases of a serious nature pending against them.

In the third phase, out of 1204 candidates in fray, ADR-Election Watch analysed 1,195 candidates, out of which 371 (31%) declared criminal cases and 282 (24%) serious cases. Such candidates are spread across all mainstream political parties, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress having the highest proportion, followed by the RJD, JD-U and the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP).

There are 37 candidates who have declared cases related to crimes against women. Six of them face rape cases and 20, murder cases; 73 have declared attempt-to-murder cases.

“There seems to be no apparent impact of the Supreme Court directive on candidates facing criminal cases, as they continue to find favour with all political parties,” said Rajiv Kumar of Election Watch.

The parties, which have put up details of candidates facing criminal charges in the public domain, have cited various reasons for their selection, : popularity, social work, educational background, their good work in the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, the role of political vendetta by rival parties in implicating them, or the vintage of cases.

“The reasons for selection (of candidates with criminal record) has to be with reference to qualifications, achievements and merit of the candidate concerned. Therefore, unfounded and baseless reasons given by political parties like popularity of the person, social work, cases being politically motivated etc are not sound and cogent reasons for fielding candidates with tainted backgrounds,” ADR-Election Watch said.

In line with the guidelines, EC has to bring such non-compliance by political parties to the notice of the Supreme Court as being in contempt of court directions.

“We have served all those who have not complied with the EC directive with show-cause notices for violation of guidelines. They have to send their replies. After that, appropriate action will follow. More notices will be issued after assessing the records in the remaining two phases,” said additional chief electoral officer Sanjay Singh.

During the Lok Sabha election last year, a similar trend was seen. A recent analysis by ADR and Bihar Election Watch (BEW) says that since 2005, out of 10,785 candidates who contested either Lok Sabha or assembly elections in the state, 3,230 (30%) disclosed information about criminal cases pending against themselves and 2,204 (20%) declared that they faced criminal cases of a serious nature. Such candidates are spread across all parties as well as independents.

Out of 820 MPs/MLAs analyzed since 2005, 469 (57%) have declared criminal cases against themselves and 295 (36%) have serious cases.

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