Hindustan Times
New Delhi

According to an analysis of candidate affidavits by the not-for-profit Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), the share of MPs with declared criminal cases against them has been increasing in the last decade. Of the 543 winners analysed by ADR in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, 162 (30%) had declared criminal cases against them, with 76 (14%) having serious criminal cases against them. The share of MPs with criminal and serious criminal cases increased to 43% and 29%, according to an analysis of 539 winners in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. To be sure, at least some of such cases are politically motivated.

In 2019, candidates with declared criminal cases against them had a 15.5% chance of winning compared to 4.7% for candidates without such cases against them.

The trend remains the same across parties. In 2019, while 39% of the BJP’s winning candidates had a criminal case against them, this number was 57% for the Congress, 43% for the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and 41% for the All India Trinamool Congress.

In two separate judgments on August 10, the Supreme Court asked political parties to publish pending criminal cases against their candidates within 48 hours of their nomination for the ticket, reiterating and strengthening its 2020 order. The court has also ruled that states cannot withdraw cases against MPs and MLAs without the corresponding high court’s nod, something that has become increasingly common.

The first of these two judgments assumes that voters may not be aware of criminal antecedents of candidates . Research by political scientist Milan Vaishnav, the director of Carnegie South Asia at Washington DC, also featured in his book When Crime Pays, shows that this need not be the case. According to Vaishnav, voters actually find value in supporting ‘strongman’ candidates as they are more capable of delivering on voters’ expectations of navigating the local institutions.

“The apex court’s order (on mandatory high court approval for dropping cases) is a positive step toward ensuring that no individual is above accountability”, Vaishnav said. “However, the ruling addresses the symptoms rather the cause of the disease. Ultimately, one has to grapple with the reasons parties give tickets to suspected criminals and voters lend them their support.”

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