Source: 
Author: 
Date: 
21.10.2015
City: 
New Delhi
Snapshot

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Weakening Criminal-Politician Nexus

  • Booth capturing first occurred in Bihar’s Begusarai in 1957
  • 39% and 36% of candidates in 2005 and 2010 assembly elections, respectively, had criminal records
  • This time, 29% of candidates in the first three phases (third phase polls are on October 28) have criminal antecedents
  • It’s becoming less lucrative for candidates with criminal records to win elections because of reduced winnability
  • Reduction in the number of candidates with criminal record a sign that the state apparatus has revived
  • Worrying aspect is the influence of money power. In the first three phases, 25% candidates have assets in excess of Rs 1 crore

The Nehruvian era was very much on. The country was going through the festival of the second general elections, mostly free of violence, only to be disturbed in Bihar’s Begusarai district. Way back in 1957, the young nation disturbingly got a taste of what was to become booth capturing, when some goons owing allegiance to a political party did not allow supporters of a rival party from entering the polling booth in a village in the district. The trend that started then was soon to assume monstrous proportions, reducing elections to a might-is-right exercise in many places.

Bihar was one of the first victims of the ugly trend of criminals decisively impacting elections. In the early days, politicians would hire goons for booth management for a fee. Once booth management became a norm rather than an exception, the tainted ones themselves started entering the electoral fray, giving a whole new meaning to the concept of criminalisation of politics. In fact, in the 2005 Bihar assembly elections, nearly 39% of all candidates had pending criminal cases against them.

The reduced winnability of tainted candidates has forced political parties to field cleaner nominees. (Photo: PTI)
The reduced winnability of tainted candidates has forced political parties to field cleaner nominees. (Photo: PTI)

Less Lucrative

But this time the good news is that it is becoming less lucrative for candidates with criminal records to win elections. And the reduced winnability of tainted candidates has forced political parties to field cleaner nominees. Of all the candidates who contested in the first two phases of the elections this time, as also those who will in the third phase on October 28, 29% have pending criminal cases against them, according to Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) data.

(Photo: PTI)
(Photo: PTI)

The number is still quite high but a reduction of 10 percentage points in 10 years does indicate that the crime-politics nexus seems to be breaking. As many as 36% of all candidates had pending criminal cases against them in the 2010 Bihar elections.

How has this change come about? Competitive criminalisation has certainly been a factor. There was a time, not very long ago, when most parties would prefer tainted candidates. A plethora of such candidates started cancelling each other out. ADR data for the 2010 elections support this thesis.

According to ADR, 44% assembly seats were won by clean candidates in constituencies where there were five other candidates with criminal background in the fray. And clean candidates won 60% of seats in constituencies where eight other tainted candidates contested.

Winnability Going Down

As a result, the chances of winning of candidates with criminal records have gone down. My analysis of elections of the last 10 years (2004-2014) shows that the probability of win for candidates with criminal records in Bihar is equal to or less than the national average. The chances of winning of candidates with criminal records have been arrived at by dividing the number of successful candidates with criminal cases with the total number of candidates with criminal antecedents.

The cumulative data for the last 10 years shows that the chances of winning for tainted candidates are 2.37 times more than clean candidates. At the national level, it has ranged from three times in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections to 2.6 times in 2014. In 2009, it stood at 2.33.

The reduction in the number of candidates with criminal record is also a sign that the state apparatus, in shambles a few years ago, is coming back to life. After all, candidates with considerable muscle power would win votes with a promise to “get things done”. With a seemingly functional state apparatus, or at least the perception of it, the dependence on musclemen to “get things done” seems to have come down.

(Photo: PTI)
(Photo: PTI)

Money Replacing Muscle Power

Before we start celebrating the seeming unwinding of crime-politics nexus in Bihar, let us consider the equally worrying aspect of growing influence of money power in state politics. Of all the candidates in the first three phases of elections this time, 25% have assets in excess of Rs 1 crore. This is happening in a state with one of the lowest per capita income in the country. According to media reports, parties have preferred crorepatis in areas which are very poor even by Bihar’s standards.

(Photo: iStock)
(Photo: iStock)

The shift in preference for money power is perhaps because of the burgeoning cost of campaign finance. Even in a poor state like Bihar, politicians are splurging on helicopters, video raths, massive billboards and scores of high-tech professionals-turned-party workers.

This means that the doors for political parties continue to be shut for the vast majority. Can we have a thriving democracy with the entry barrier staying at such an elevated level?

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