Criminalisation of politics has become an issue of grave concern among the Indian intelligentsia. And though the top leaders of all political parties agree that those with criminal record should be debarred from contesting elections, the number of such people is only increasing. In 2004, about one in five MPs had a criminal record, including some with charges of heinous crimes such as murder, rape, dacoity and kidnapping.
Why does it happen?
The most important factor, which determines the ticket distribution, is the "winability" of the candidate. Hence more and more people with money and muscle power are getting tickets from the political parties. Another factor that has played an important role is that the criminal elements think that they can escape punishment by becoming a member of legislative bodies in the states or at the centre.
The negative implications
As goes the old adage – "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch". A person with criminal background entering politics will demand his pound of flesh from the party in power to which he has extended support. Apart from seeking protection from the criminal cases going against him, he will also want a share from the developmental schemes going on in his areas. Thus the government funds meant for the poor go into the pockets of these people.
Is there a way out?
In a conference organised by the Public Interest Foundation (PIF) on February 19, 2009, several eminent people expressed their views on how to tackle the problem. Fali S Nariman, India's leading constitutional expert, emphasised on having a proper definition of people who can be called a criminal which could be those who are charged with offences that involve a punishment of more than two years. Dr Bimal Jalan, one of India's renowned economist and former Governor of Reserve Bank of India, who is the Chairman of the Public Interest Foundation gave a novel idea to tackle the problem. He said that since it is difficult to determine who is a criminal and who is not and many a times the cases filed against the people fighting elections could be politically motivated, it is difficult to bar anyone from fighting elections.
Instead, a rule should be made that all the cases against the elected representatives be heard on a daily basis and the final judgment should be delivered within a period of three months. And till the time the courts clear them of the charges, they should not be given oath and denied the privileges accorded to an elected member. This, Dr Jalan argued, will prove to be a great disincentive to the criminal elements because if they have indeed committed heinous crimes, they will be wary of the cases against them being heard on a daily basis and the verdict being delivered within a span of three months.
However everyone agreed that no rational outcome in this regard is possible until the ultimate custodians of democracy in India – its citizens – are made aware of the ill effects of criminals entering political institutions. Also there is an urgent need to put pressure on all political parties to stop giving tickets to people with tainted records. "It is high time for us to make each and every citizen of India aware of this fact so that they can rise to the occasion and make a sincere appeal to all the political parties from giving tickets to people having criminal charges against them. I urge every citizen of India to join the movement and not to vote for criminals in the forthcoming elections", said lyricist Javed Akhtar, who was one of the key speakers of the conference organised by the PIF. Other people who expressed their ideas on the issue in the conference included former Delhi Police Commissioner Ved Marwah and industrialist Rahul Bajaj.
The Campaign for NO CRIMINALS in Politics
The campaign is an initiative of the Public Interest Foundation. According to the people behind the campaign, the upcoming general elections offer citizens an opportunity to make an appeal to political parties not to give tickets to persons with criminal antecedents. The core idea is to launch a nationwide campaign to enable citizens to express their opinion on this issue in a visible way. The campaign will cover the whole of India. It will build on the public mood in the country to appeal to all political parties.
A series of efforts, including widespread use of audio-visual media, print, internet, mobile phones, etc., will be made to reach out to a large number of people across the country. Efforts will also be made to leverage the strengths of existing groups that have done work in the area of not having people with criminal antecedents contest in elections such as the Association for Democratic Reforms, the National Election Watch, etc. Though there is a short window to reach out to the citizens across India given that the general elections will possibly be held in phases beginning in April 2009, the desired outcome of the campaign will be that no political party gives tickets to people with criminal antecedents in the 2009 general elections.
For more information about the campaign, visit www.NoCriminals.com