New Delhi

Sunil Pandey, a member of the legislative Assembly from Tarari in Bhojpur district in Bihar and an accused in several cases, might not be able to contest the Assembly elections this time. Though many with a criminal past are in he fray, the trend is clear: In a state almost synonymous with criminalisation of politics, political parties have started betting on clean candidates.

Of the candidates who had contested the 2010 Assembly elections in Bihar, as many as 36 per cent had criminal cases against them, against 39 per cent in the 2005 polls. According to data provided by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), for the first phase of the elections this year, the number has fallen to 30 per cent. While the proportion is still high, the fact that it is on the decline indicates the crime-politics nexus seems to be unwinding. At the least, the process has begun.

Is the crime-politics nexus cracking in Bihar?

What is even more encouraging is the three main political parties in the state - the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Janata Dal (United) - have fielded fewer candidates with criminal records in the first phase of this year's elections compared to the previous Assembly polls. While there are four more phases to go, media reports indicate the overall number of candidates with criminal records is likely to be less than the 2010 elections.

"The change has been forced by the people of Bihar. We can sense the people's anger at the growing criminalisation," says Ranjeet, spokesperson of the Congress's Bihar unit.

What has driven the change? Perhaps, the realisation that the ability of candidates with criminal records to win has fallen considerably. Data show since 2004, in all elections in the state - Lok Sabha and Assembly polls -the probability of candidates with criminal records winning has been 19 per cent, against eight per cent for candidates with clean backgrounds. As such, the chances of tainted candidates winning the elections are 2.37 times more. The probability of candidates with criminal records winning the elections has been arrived at by dividing the number of successful candidates with criminal cases with the total number of candidates with criminal records.

Why are candidates with criminal records losing their winnability in Bihar? Political commentators say this is due to competitive criminalisation of politics in the state, as well as the people's growing fatigue with such trends.

Also, as most parties began to field tainted candidates against each other, it would, in effect, cancel each other's impact, they add. The ADR analysis of the 2010 Bihar Assembly elections shows in constituencies with five candidates with pending criminal cases, 44 per cent of the seats were won by candidates with no criminal records. And, such candidates won 60 per cent of the seats in constituencies where eight candidates with criminal records contested.

In an emailed response to a query by Business Standard, Milan Vaishnav, associate, South Asia programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, "In the short to medium run, aspirational politics can coexist with criminal politics. After all, many criminals campaign on the fact that they are able to "get things done" in service of some segment of their constituency. Where the state is unable to deliver benefits, justice, or security, such individuals attempt to fill the gap. Over time, the hope is the state apparatus gets strengthened and reinvigorated. That will start marginalising politicians who attempt to substitute for the state."

Though the influence of muscle power seems to be on the wane, it is being replaced by the consistent rise of the hold of money power. While only 10 per cent of all the candidates in the 2010 Bihar Assembly elections were crorepatis, this has now risen to 25 per cent.

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