The asian age
New Delhi

No politician would dare say how terrible it is that people accused of rape, kidnapping, murder, rioting etc. sit in state Assemblies and even in Parliament. It would be insulting their brothers-in-arms, their colleagues.

What Rahul wants, Rahul gets,” was the headline in one national newspaper. Others were not so direct, but nevertheless played up Rahul Gandhi’s outburst against the ordinance on convicted MPs and MLAs.

The stories concentrated on the intemperate nature of Mr Gandhi’s speech, the undermining of the Prime Minister’s authority, Dr Manmohan Singh’s humiliation while on a foreign tour and the subsequent eating of humble pie by the entire Cabinet. Later reports speculated that Mr Gandhi’s statement was not as impetuous as it seemed, but was carefully orchestrated, and that this was his way of at last putting his imprint on the Congress.
Many people I met also reacted very strongly: some were livid with Mr Gandhi and asked, “Did he have to do it this way? Did he have to show up Dr Singh, who was after all, the Prime Minister of the country? Why didn’t he speak up earlier while the ordinance was being drafted, which he surely was aware of (the whole country knew about it, anyway)?”
These are, of course, valid observations and this episode gives us yet another confirmation that UPA-2 and the Congress under its present leadership are bumblers of the first order, never knowing their left foot from the right, their hat from their glove. But in all this, one thing has been almost overlooked: what Mr Gandhi has achieved is something that would never have been achieved. The criminalisation of our politics has grown into a habit no one wants to break, and the only people who talk about it are newspaper columnists and social reformers. Have you ever heard a politician of any political party speak about it, let alone say how terrible it is that people accused of murder, kidnapping, rape, rioting etc. sit in state Assemblies and even in Parliament? They wouldn’t dare: it would be insulting their brothers-in-arms, colleagues who deliver what every party wants — assured seats.
Just look at the figures. In our state Assemblies, as many as 31 per cent of all MLAs have criminal cases against them. That adds up to one-third in terms of percentage, and one thousand two hundred and fifty MLAs in numbers. I have spelt it out so that this shameful figure hits you in the face. And that’s not all: 14 per cent of these criminal cases are described as being of a serious nature, which usually means murder, rape, dacoity and rioting.
You would think that the position at the centre in Parliament would be better. That, sadly, is not true at all. Look at this: of 543 MPs, 162 have criminal cases against them. That’s 30 per cent. And 14 per cent are of a serious nature.
You would also assume that the BJP, the party that speaks loudest about morality, cultural traditions and values, would be the cleanest, wouldn’t you? I did till I saw the figures: an amazing 38 per cent of its legislators — higher than the national average — consists of criminals, while the Congress has only 21 per cent. Here, pause for a moment and think of what our society has come to: a fifth of the Congress legislators come from criminal elements, and we consider that an achievement, we use the word “only”.
As is to be expected, some of the regional parties known for their strong-arm tactics, have a majority of their legislators who are criminals. It shouldn’t surprise us because some of these parties actually boast about their “history-sheeters” who, in turn, wear their criminal records as a badge of honour. In spite of that these figures would scarcely be believable because of their sheer scale, except that they have been given by the credible organisation, the Association for Democratic Reforms. The Shiv Sena, Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, Shibhu Soren’s Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi head this particular list: JMM (80 per cent) and Shiv Sena (77 per cent) are the champions, while even Jayalalithaa’s All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has 44 per cent tainted legislators. State-wise, the surprise is Karnataka, with 74 per cent legislators with criminal cases against them, which beats even Bihar (58 per cent) and Uttar Pradesh (47 per cent). Even Mr Clean, Narendra Modi’s Gujarat has a 31 per cent figure, no better than the national average.
In this scenario, it was in everyone’s interest to pass the bill in Parliament. The ordinance would have only ensured that pending the passage of the bill, people like Lalu Prasad Yadav and Rashid Masood would have avoided disqualification simply by appealing to a higher court. As an example, look at the case of the Chautalas, father Om Prakash and son Ajay, sentenced in January this year for as long as 10 years. But Chautala Sr. still retains his Assembly seat because he appealed his conviction, and the Supreme Court order is not retrospective.
So let us applaud Mr Gandhi for doing what he did. But was his motivation a case of a sudden attack of morality? Or was it the realisation that the ordinance would have made the Congress being seen as protecting criminals? Would this have mattered in 2014? Probably not because this is an issue which only bothers the middle class, and the middle class plays a marginal role in general elections. It’s obviously not an important issue for the majority of voters as is evident from the fact that criminals have retained their seats in election after election.
Will this now result in the cleansing of our public life? Only in the long run. After all, you have to convict a politician first before disqualifying him. And no case can proceed without investigations being complete. The CBI, described by the Supreme Court as a caged parrot, drags on cases for years and years (Lalu Prasad’s case is 17-years-old). Investigations of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati were on and off, the government using this as a Damocles’ sword hanging over their heads as it suited politically. Incidentally, the probe against former Kerala chief minister, K. Karunakaran, in the palmolein oil case started in 1992 and was forcibly closed by the ex-CM by the simple expedient of dying.
Therefore it’s clear what the future government — or any government — strategy will be: delay investigations as much as possible. As it is, the CBI is overburdened and also has over 800 staff vacancies. Here’s a good reason not to fill them for as long as possible. Delays will also continue from the judiciary which now has 7,023 corruption cases pending before its special courts.
So in the end, we give only two cheers to Mr Gandhi. Till the CBI is freed from government control and till the judiciary clears its backlog, the cleansing of politics will take its time. But thanks to Mr Gandhi, at least a start has been made.

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