New Delhi

The analysis of election affidavits of candidates for the Delhi assembly elections by the acclaimed NGO, Association for Democratic Reforms, has made startling revelations that nearly one in three candidates put up by the three leading parties — the BJP, the Aam Aadmi Party, and the Congress — are facing criminal cases. BJP has 27 of 69 candidates with criminal cases, of which 17 are accused in “serious” criminal cases. The corresponding numbers for “total” and “serious” criminal cases are 23 and 14 for AAP, and 21 and 11 for the Congress, respectively.  However, while this analysis does tell us about candidates facing criminal cases, what it does not give us is a clear picture of the criminalisation of politics. Since the ADR analysis is widely cited by most media outlets, including dna, it is important to make this distinction. Most politicians, especially those who have taken part in agitations, invariably have cases of unlawful assembly, rioting, obstructing public servants, and even attempt to murder, lodged against them. Subsuming cases of a political nature with other charges does great disservice to the constitutionally guaranteed right to protest. 

Even the categorisation of “serious” criminal cases has a flaw. Alongside crimes against women, corruption cases, and murder, many of these “political” cases also get clubbed together as “serious” criminal cases because many of them are non-bailable offences and are punishable with imprisonment over five years. Even if the crime numbers fall as a result and appear less sensational or alarming, those attempting to quantify, study and act against criminalisation of politics, must evolve a better criteria for “serious” criminal cases. For example, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal faces 10 criminal cases  involving a total of 47 Indian Penal Code sections but falls in the “serious” criminal cases group because four of these IPC sections are classified as “serious”. By no stretch of imagination, can Kejriwal, who came up the ladder through agitational politics, be branded alongside those accused of offences like sexual harassment, land grab, cheating or corruption. It can also be argued that such classification allows the actual criminal elements within political parties to escape scrutiny. Perhaps, it is time for the Election Commission to seek more detailed information in election affidavits about FIRs to help independent analysts like ADR arrive at a better assessment of the individual criminal cases against candidates.

Further, the ADR study is an opportunity for the AAP, which prides itself on practising alternative politics, to respond on the criminal cases against their candidates.  This is particularly important in the context of a January 24 dna report which revealed that anti-corruption crusader and lawyer Prashant Bhushan, an AAP founding member, had complained to Kejriwal against the awarding of tickets to 12 candidates who he alleged had dubious credentials. If Bhushan’s allegations are correct, it indicates that the AAP, in less than two years of its formation, has also fallen to the lure of money and muscle-power to browbeat political opponents. While the due diligence by civil society outfits like ADR is praiseworthy, the onus is on political parties to scrutinise their candidates before awarding tickets. With “winnability” becoming the keyword in doling out tickets during election time, politics becomes the first casualty, and probity the second. Though the Supreme Court is taking its time in upping the ante on decriminalisation of politics, in the hope that political parties and Parliament will do the needful, the study of election affidavits and deriving quantifiable information points to the direction that accountability, transparency and civil society vigilance is heading. Today’s parties could take note before another AAP avatar comes calling.

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