The New Indian Express
New Delhi

According to a survey conducted by National Election Watch in 2013, 162 of 543 Lok Sabha MPs have criminal cases against them; 76 of these (14 per cent of Lok Sabha) have serious charges against them. The numbers for Rajya Sabha are 40 (17 per cent) and 16 (7 per cent) out of 232, for criminal and serious criminal cases respectively. Out of 4,032 sitting MLAs, 1,258 (31 per cent) face criminal cases, and 15 per cent face serious charges. Over 65 per cent of the candidates with criminal backgrounds are given tickets to contest elections a second time. Over 600 of these MPs and MLAs have very serious charges like murder, rape and kidnapping against them.

This sounds more like an account of Members of Prisons than Members of Parliament. These statistics show the lack of political will to clean up the system. In this atmosphere, if a well-meaning young man tears up an ordinance meant to safeguard the interests of leaders with criminal background, I wonder why there is so much criticism.

At some point of time, politicians realised that criminals have better chances of winning, because of the fear network they wield and also because locally they do little favours to their constituents. For criminals, it was a win-win situation to become law-makers from law-breakers; they were politically immune now. The experiment paid off for parties. It’s the story of Frankenstein and the monster. If 30 per cent of legislators come from suspect backgrounds, are they ever going to have a bill passed that hampers their interests?

The bill against convicted MPs and tearing up of the ordinance meant to dilute the bill are a welcome change. Once the provisions in it become legal, parties too will shy away from harbouring criminals. It is a sacrifice they must make today for a better tomorrow.

This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg. Those convicted are few, and those against who there are cases are many. Cases drag on for years, and those with money and muscle certainly know how to get them dragged to eternity. Under the shady shade of such trees, all kinds of criminals flourish. Early this year, a party’s goons attacked a toll booth attendant on the Lucknow-Faizabad highway when asked to pay the toll. Once these goons get political protection, they assume a pose that they are immune, and go on a rampage of pent-up feudal violence. And no one escapes this circle of violence. Not even cops. A police officer was killed last year in Uttar Pradesh, reportedly by goons of a political party. J Dey, a Mumbai-based journalist, was shot dead in broad daylight because he was taking on the mafia. Political protection to the mafia is linked to all this. Harbouring criminals politically ensures that right down to the grassroots, there is an unsaid sanction to criminal activities, both heinous and petty.

The economy of criminality and politics runs at a micro level. Criminals pump in money for elections, and expect to be rewarded after their candidate has won. Besides, during elections, there’s black money that circulates in the form of liquid cash, which is then doled out for alcohol and pleasures of small-time goons. There is a circulatory system stifling the respiratory system of our democracy.

Is this a democracy for the people? It is a matter of political will. Unless the political class gets together to clean up its act, which they themselves are orchestrators of, we as voters, are left to choose between the devil and the deep sea. At least, we can resolve that as voters, we will not vote for anyone with a criminal background. But the bigger act is for the policymakers—to make laws that clean up the muck we are headed towards. This question that stares us is: can we have a cleaner parliament in 2014? Can the voters rise above clannishness, can the political class rise above ‘winnability’?  

© Association for Democratic Reforms
Privacy And Terms Of Use
Donation Payment Method