Abraham Lincoln once said that, in a democracy a government should be by the people, of the people and for the people, but for India the case has mostly been different. From the day of inception of democratic politics in India, the country has dealt with the perils of criminalization of politics, at least at the regional levels. The politicians have, on numerous occasions, used politics as a tool to bury their callused pasts or to gain a fortune from their political career, either by the huge incentives and other advantages and opportunities provided by the governments to the MLAs and MPs or by fraudulent ways through scams and bribery. Indian politics has by far been inked by politicians who have with their political muscle power have done multiple work of criminal offence ranging from bribery to trying to influence election. On the other hand, many people with criminal background came to politics only because our constitution does not hold any one from the country willing to contest from contesting an election. These criminals further went on to create pandemonium in the houses of parliament and state assemblies and start a rule of muscle and money supported by their sketchy past, and enormous fortune that they make by acquiring the political power. The fodder scams, Bhanwri Devi murder case, have time and again unmasked the dirty politics that has always been played in India. The dance of democracy further becomes more naked when political parties use money and muscle to influence elections by capturing booths, buying members and foraying into the zones of terrorizing the public to vote for a particular party. From the time of the first election in 1951, India has seen the members of a political party moving to another party making the following party a weaker contender in the race of election. Now the elections in India are very competitive and sometimes to win it some politicians use money or muscle power. These politicians do not care for the welfare of people but only care for their personal gains. Former Indian president APJ Abdul Kalam once said, “In India the politicians do politics for the sake of politics when they should do politics for the sake of people.”
In his book, ‘When crime pays: Money and Muscle in Indian politics’- Milan Vaishnav explains how goondas and mafias have been a part of electoral politics since the inception of Indian democracy. Since the law does not bar any Indian from contesting the elections, anybody from any background can take part in the election process. This makes people from criminal background, even those who are facing trials for any criminal charges eligible for contesting even they are pretty fruitful in the elections as well. The rate of the winnability of people from the criminal background has been proved by the reports of Association for Democratic Reforms. It is an irony that people think these candidates can be able to make their lives better by bringing in the changes that they have been waiting for a long time, since the politicians have discretionary power over the implementation of policies that enables the distributions of benefits to the public. But in spite of working for sake of the people these politicians create pandemonium in the houses of parliament and state legislation and bar the houses from working normally. This brings forth the loopholes in the supposed rule of law that Indian democracy boasts of. Civil society by far has tried multiple time to make the court and election commission bar the candidates with criminal background or candidates facing trials for any criminal act, from contesting in election, but every time it failed due to technical or legal restraints. How the criminal acts got infused into the politics and the ways of cleaning the Indian politics is the main subject of this article. Here the criminalisation of politics and the hard and fast efforts put by the civil society and the recent judgements in order to de criminalise the politics will be discussed thoroughly.
The Nexus of Crime and Politics
The criminalisation of politics has spread its roots from legislature to executive, from executive to judiciary. A report by ADR (Association for democratic reforms) shows that the proportion of the candidates with criminal record stood at 15% in the 2009 elections, that went up to 17% in 2014 elections and further reached to a gaping 19% in the 2019 elections. As said earlier these candidates with criminal backgrounds have more chances to win than a candidate with a clear image. The ADR and Flinty pictures collaborated to publish a report that shows, about 13% of the contesting candidates in 2019 had charges for committing heinous crimes such as murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, rape etc, against their names. With the power of the constitution anyone can compete in the elections and that enables people like Phoolan Devi, Santokben Jadeja, Pappu Kalani to enter the houses of legislation and corrupt the working of it internally.
The criminalisation of politics happens in two ways, firstly, when a political leader with money or muscle power tries to influence the workings of the government, that includes bribery, money laundering scams, booths capturing, political murders etc. During the early 1970’s West Bengal saw a huge uprising of left parties. During this period some student led sect of these parties started a guerrilla movement against the rich money lenders and the then ruling party of West Bengal, Indian national Congress. In this time to neutralize the raging movement the government of West Bengal unleashed the police on the leaders and active workers of this movement. This started a counter killing spree by the government sponsored goons and police. History can label this as mare cases of police brutality but the fact cannot be denied that these killings were endorsed by the government. Further the Marichjhapi and Bijon Setu incident testifies the state sponsored terrorism that is another instance of the criminalisation of politics. The criminalisation of politics also comes in front when journalists like Gauri Lankesh, Rajdev Ranjan, Jagendra Singh get killed for speaking against some political leaders. The politicians also influence the judiciary as in the recent Hathras rape case a rally was brought out to support the accused and the victim’s body was forcibly cremated without the family’s consent. Also, in 2020 West Bengal saw a heated political riot over the relief process for the cyclone ‘Amphan’ in Sundarbans’s Maipith, where a member from the ruling party Trinamool Congress was killed by goondas of the opposition SUCI. This started counter attack by TMC party workers towards the SUCI workers.
Criminalisation of politics also happens when people from criminal background comes into the electoral process. Sometimes politicians themselves have criminal background as a report by ADR shows in 2009, 30% of the Lok Sabha members had criminal cases against them the number went up to 34% in 2014 and further reached to a whopping 43% in the year 2019. Moreover, in 2019, 29% 0f the sitting MPs were declared to be engaged in severe crimes. In India Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Gujrat tops the chart for having the greatest number of MPs and MLAs with criminal records following Goa (32%), Kerala (29%), Bihar (26%), and Jharkhand (26%), and on the other end of the list with least numbers of MPs and MLAs with criminal records lies the states of Rajasthan (6%), Haryana (7%), and Assam (7%). It is visible in the Indian democracy that these goondas and mafias patronised and secured by the political safety valve runs a parallel government with terror, corruption, muscle and money power.
Funds and their Background
The funds have always been a thing in question for the political parties as almost 75% of these funds come from “unknown” sources. The ADR had previously asked all the political parties to disclose the complete financial, educational, and criminal background of each candidate which was further got upheld by an amendment of the ‘Representation of people act’ in 2002. This amendment was further got struck off by the Supreme court citing that, the amendment was unconstitutional. In 2013 CIC, (The Central Information commission) declared that, all the political parties are public authorities and therefore under the right to information act. This made an earlier judgement by CIC further strengthened. In 2014 Indian national Congress and Bhartiya Janta Party found guilty for accepting foreign funds, which is illegal by the current Indian law. The political parties sometimes find loopholes of the enforced law by accepting funds under Rs. 20,000/- and do not feel obliged to declare the source. Election commission, in a recent initiative, has asked the ‘Central Board of Direct taxes’ to cancel the tax exemptions of 10 political parties, that failed to file their income tax returns.
The funds from unknown sources that adds to the opulence of the political parties are used to build muscle power network. With money the politicians and political parties make the media broadcast in their favour, that sums up the widely spread ‘paid news’ and ‘yellow journalism’. The fund is also used to bribe or sometimes terrorise the MPs, and MLAs of the opposition party and drawing them to the party. This phenomenon of political leaders leaving a party and joining other by causing the fall of governments, is nothing but a game of money and muscle. The dance of democracy always gets performed under the roof created by money and muscle. Politics has always provided the criminals with a robe to clean up their images and as according to the Representation of People act,1951 only the convicted candidates get disqualified from the election process, and the conviction takes a huge amount of time in India and the judiciary system is weak and easily gets influenced, the process of conviction takes forever and the person in question thrives under the umbrella of politics and continues with his corrupted endeavours.
Detailed Analysis of Some Cases of Criminalisation of Politics
The politics has been an image changer for many people from very beginning of the democracy of India. In 1983 the infamous bandit queen of India Phoolan Devi surrendered to the government. In 1999 she stood in the elections from Mirzapur Uttar Pradesh, as the Samajwadi party led UP government decided to drop all the charges against her. She stood in the elections for the Samajwadi Party and won twice. A similar case can be found in the account of Gujrat’s Santokben Jadeja, who fought and won elections from Saurashtra in 2002. Santokben Jadeja had been known by the name of “godmother” and used to operate the criminal network around the ports of Gujrat and Saurashtra. Another criminal turned politician who had his close ties with mafia tycoon Dawood Ibrahim was Pappu Kalani, who was an MLA from Ulhasnagar, Maharashtra, has been convicted in around 19 cases including 8 murders and is currently in bail.
Some politicians who have used their political power to influence the working of the democracy as well as win over a fortune for themselves are Om Prakash and Ajay Singh Chautala respectively former chief minister and MP of Haryana got convicted in the year 2013 for illegally recruiting over 3000 teachers in the state of Haryana between the years 1999 and 2000. Another MLA from Naroda, Gujrat, who is convicted for taking active part in the Naroda Patiya massacre during the Gujarat riots. She is currently serving a 28 years prison for the conviction. The greatest of all time in the Indian politics is the scams related to the fodder and disproportionate property scams by the Laloo Prasad Yadav and family. Another case that made it to the headlines was the case of the midwife of Rajasthan, Bhanwri Devi who accused and blackmailed MP Mahipal Maderna for having illicit affair with her and ended up getting abducted and killed.
The criminal acts of the politicians became so widely spread that the common masses started losing their interest in politics. To decriminalise the politics the people of this country need to take interest in the politics and to bring it back election commission and the Supreme court need to take some strict steps to clear the images of Indian politics.
Representation of People Act and its Amendments
Representation of people act was first brought into force in 1951 before the first general elections. The act enforces the rules and regulations of representing the people of the country. In the sec 8 of the Representation of People act, 1951, it is noted that an individual punished with imprisonment for more than 2 years cannot stand in an election for 6 years after the end of the jail term. This enforces the law of disqualification after conviction. The Representation of People act, 1951 also enforces the rule of the candidates filing an affidavit by filling the form 26 and failing to provide right information can result into a maximum six months of imprisonment or a fine or both. In 2002 the parliament brought an amendment to the Representation of People act to uphold the ADR judgement of disclosing every detail about a candidate but it was then struck off by the Supreme Court of India.
In the Indira Nehru Gandhi vs Ranga Narayan case learned justice Matthew has said that, no political term has been so subjected to contractionary definition as “democracy”. Since it has become fashionable and profitable for anyone and any state to style it according to their choice. Justice Mathew further says in a democracy the two basic assumptions should be fulfilled,
- Popular sovereignty in the sense that the country should be governed by the representatives of people, that all power come from them at their pleasure and under their watchful supervision.
- There should be equality among all the citizens in arriving at a decision affecting them.
To ensure these assumptions are completely fulfilled during the Sri Dinesh Trivedi MP &ORS vs Union of India &ORS case, 1997 the NN Vohra committee was founded and the court ordered to gather all the required information as the Vohra committee recommended to set up intelligence agencies to unmask the parallel government that the goon network is running under the safety valve of politicians. In 2014 a report found out that disqualification after conviction is not fruitful in order to decriminalise politics, since the conviction in the judiciary system takes a lot of time. In a set of judgement that is during the Public interest foundation vs Union of India, March 10, 2014, and Lily Jones vs Union of India, July 10, 2013, the Supreme court ordered that, the trials of the MLAs and MPs facing criminal charges should be finished within a year. In 2001 the court has said conviction by any lower court is enough to disqualify a candidate unless an upper court overturns the order.
In the year 2018 a constitution bench of five judges ordered that the political parties should disclose all the details of their candidates in every media. A contempt petition was filed due to the unfulfillment of this order and in 2020 the Supreme court gave out the verdict that political parties should disclose the details of their candidates and the reason of choosing them around social media and conventional media that of newspaper and news channels and also submit the same to the Election commission of India within 72 hours of selecting the candidate. The reason for selecting a candidate cannot be cited as “winnability”. Failing to submit this affidavit parties must file compliance otherwise this act will be treated as contempt.
The election commission of India in 2003 mandated the filing of affidavit with personal details as well as filling up the form 26 by a candidate that makes the candidates disclose any criminal charges. In 2004 election commission recommended an amendment of the representation of people act for stricter punishment for providing wrong information in form 26. Some recommendations to de criminalise politics, can be drawn from the overall discussion of the matter of criminalisation of politics. Thay are,
- Making the political parties answerable to the common people.
- Popularizing the concept of NOTA. As by this option a person can choose to state that none of the candidates are believable to him. This can send a message to the parties about their selection of candidates.
- Making the financial conditions of the parties clear and making them state the sources of their funds.
- Setting up fast track courts that can finish trials related to MPs and MLAs in a fast pace.
- Make the masses more vigilant and blow the whistle whenever they find anything fishy.
The overall discussion makes the point bolder that in order to de criminalise the politics the people of the country should be more vigilant and informed about the whereabouts of politics. As in democracy government is made of the people by the people and for the people.