Voting for Bollywood

INDIA’S last parliament flopped. Crammed with ill-prepared parliamentarians, it passed few laws. A look at the roster of candidates for the current election suggests that too many again are celebrities or time-wasters.

A legal campaign by a civil-activist group, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), forced aspiring parliamentarians to publish details of their education, wealth and criminal past. Yet if transparency was to serve as disinfectant, it is slow-acting. Of 7,562 would-be MPs assessed by ADR, 106 declared themselves illiterate; 2,038 said they were crorepatis, that is worth at least 10m rupees ($166,000). Most troubling are those whose wealth grows after their election. This week a court told Jayaram Jayalalitha, Tamil Nadu’s chief minister, that her 18-year legal case for allegedly amassing “disproportionate assets” will drag on longer. Others face similar cases.

Voters do not care. Trilochan Sastry, a founder of ADR, says criminality may even be popular. “We started putting out data on criminals, but parties continued to put them up as candidates and they kept winning”, he says. This time some 17% of assessed candidates face criminal charges, some for rape or murder. They may be preferred, says Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment, if voters judge them able “to get things done”. Suspected gangsters take to politics. In Varanasi Congress’s Ajai Rai faces nine criminal cases, including two filed under a special “gangster act”. This week he welcomed the backing of a rival, Mukhtar Ansari, who is in Agra jail accused of murdering Mr Rai’s elder brother.

Elsewhere luvvies and sportsmen draw crowds. West Bengal is notable for models and actresses, such as Moon Moon Sen, for whom miles of rural roads are watered before she travels them, so she will not get dust in her eyes. In Meerut Congress has put up Nandita Morarji (pictured), an actress known as Nagma with 70 films to her credit. More celebrities mean a weaker legislature, says Mint, a Delhi-based newspaper. It found that former actors and musicians were least likely to attend parliament.

Dynastic trends are no more edifying. Two-fifths of Congress’s candidates in Rajasthan were close family members of political figures. As well as the Gandhis of Congress, the nation’s president, finance minister and agriculture minister all have children contesting seats. One day, merit may count for more