The Free Press Journal
New Delhi

As the country goes to polls to elect its representatives for Parliament, there is an uneasy realisation that our democracy has much to ponder about. On the positive plane, it is remarkable that barring the 21 months of dictatorship when Mrs Indira Gandhi subverted the Constitution in the mid-1970s before better sense prevailed upon her, we have had democratic rule with free and fair elections through the over six decades since independence.

The malady of booth-capturing has been virtually banished, with tighter control being exercised by the Election Commission. But it is a cold reality that there are many negatives too that have emerged. For one, money and muscle power rule the roost as never before.

For a brief while after the elections to the Delhi Assembly, it seemed that there was hope even for candidates with modest means, when many of the Aam Aadmi Party nominees emerged triumphant. There was a resurgence of hope that AAP would change the face of Indian politics. But these hopes were dashed as the party behaved with gross irresponsibility, in first failing to govern effectively and then throwing in the towel a bare 49 days after it had assumed office.

Many believed that AAP had given up power in Delhi so that its leaders might get an opportunity to cleanse politics all across the country in the general elections. But that hope too has been belied as tickets are being doled out by the party to actors and other showbiz personalities and the original principles on which AAP had been set up have been forgotten.

An element of disillusionment has set in among the rank and file in the party, with many of them now wondering if there is any difference between the candidates of other parties and those of the AAP. True, the party is not knowingly giving tickets to criminal elements, but moneybags are being wooed and it may not be long before those with criminal antecedents also smuggle themselves into the party.

Meanwhile, the ills that AAP set out to fight are surfacing with a vengeance. Politics is beyond the reach of those who are of modest means. In state after state that the Association for Democratic Reforms has analysed in the course of a study, crorepatis abound among candidates of major parties. Indeed, it emerges that candidates with modest means have slim chances of getting elected. This is most unfortunate because this was not the intention of those who laid the foundations of democratic polity. In the country’s largest state—Madhya Pradesh—the  BJP and the Congress fielded double the number of crorepatis in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections last year, as compared to five years ago. The Congress had the richest candidate, who has assets worth Rs 121.32 crore, with the BJP close on its heels, with a nominee who had assets worth Rs 120.29 crore.

An analysis of affidavits filed by 683 candidates of the Congress, the BJP and the BSP showed that 51 per cent of them are crorepatis, an increase from 29 per cent during the 2008 elections. Of the 229 BJP candidates, whose affidavits were analysed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW), 160 were crorepatis, as compared to 76 candidates in 2008.

In the Rajya Sabha, 86 per cent of the 58 new members or 50 members elected in 2013 were crorepatis, with average assets of Rs 44.74 crore, according to the ADR.  The ADR had analysed data from the self-sworn affidavits of 58 new and re-contesting members of the Upper House.

Among the national parties, the average assets per candidate was highest for the BJP at Rs 85.36 crore, followed by the Congress with Rs 42.32 crore, the NCP with Rs 23.02 crore and the CPM with Rs 21.99 lakh. Six Independent candidates were found to have average assets of Rs 110.68 crore.

The richest RS candidate is BJP’s Ravindra Kishore Sinha from Bihar, who has declared assets worth Rs 857.11 crore, followed by Kakde Sanjay Dattatraya, Independent candidate from Maharashtra, with declared assets of Rs 425.65 crore and T Subbarami Reddy of the Congress from Andhra Pradesh, with declared assets of Rs 422.44 crore.

The situation with regard to the criminality of candidates was equally unnerving. Of the 280 candidates who will be contesting the upcoming Lok Sabha elections on Congress and BJP tickets, 84 have declared criminal cases against them, even as 36 among them are facing serious criminal charges like murder and kidnapping.

The report, based on the analysis of affidavits of 280 out of 469 candidates whose names have been announced by the Congress and the BJP till March 13, further states that 161 (58 per cent) candidates are crorepatis, with average assets of Rs 4.86 crore.

The report has been prepared by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW) and is based on analysis of the background details of 280 candidates whose affidavits were available from assembly or Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha elections in the past.

Of the 165 Congress candidates analysed, 44 candidates (27 per cent) had declared criminal cases against themselves in their previous election affidavit. The BJP has 40 out of 115 candidates (35 per cent) with criminal cases, the report stated.

 Moreover, of those 44 candidates of the Congress with criminal cases, 16 have declared serious charges registered against them. Likewise, 20 of the 40 BJP candidates with criminal cases have serious charges levelled against them.

Even on the count of civilised behaviour of candidates for the Lok Sabha elections, there are shocking examples of the excesses committed by some among them in terms of the extreme attitudes and statements made by them.

One Imran Masood, who is the Congress Party candidate for the Lok Sabha from Saharanpur, UP, stirred up a hornet’s nest when he threatened, in a public rally, to chop up the leader of the BJP, Narendra Modi, into tiny pieces. A leader of the stature of Sharad Pawar was at his intemperate best when he said that Narendra Modi needed to be sent to a mental asylum. External Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed called Modi “impotent.”

Narendra Modi in turn described the ‘hand’ symbol of the Congress as “khooni panja”, evoking strong protests from Congress bigwigs.

So, be it the all-pervasive money and muscle power, the use of foul language by leaders, the criminality of candidates for elections, there is much in the democratic governance model that we practice which is pernicious and needs to be reformed.

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