Muscle power in Indian politics has always influenced elections, especially in the Hindi-belt and this trend was observed even in the first general election of India in 1952.
However, the Hindi-belt is no exception these days as this virus of criminal records is spreading rapidly all over the country. In 2019 the intensity and the frequency of such allegations has registered a quantum jump. Moreover, the verbal abuse and frequent skirmishes in political rallies have become the order of the day.
If we have a look at the first phase of polling which concluded on April 11, a total of 213 of 1266 candidates contesting have declared criminal cases. This is about 17 per cent of the candidates in the fray for April 11 voting. The criminal cases included ones related to kidnapping, rape and murder, according to data compiled by NGO Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR). The data compiled is based on analysis of self-sworn affidavits of 1266 of 1279 candidates by the National Election Watch and ADR.
Of the 1266, 146 candidates from across the political spectrum have declared serious cases against themselves. Twelve candidates have declared cases in which they have been convicted while ten have declared cases of murder against them.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded 83 candidates across the country in the Phase I of the Lok Sabha election 2019. Of the 83, thirty candidates are named in criminal cases; 16 have serious criminal cases against them. In comparison to the BJP, the Congress has fielded more candidates with a criminal past in Phase 1 of the Lok Sabha polls.
As the election date is approaching in Goa next week the Chief Electoral Office had recently directed all the returning officers and magistrates to see whether the compliance on criminal record publicity by five candidates in Goa Assembly by-polls has been met or not. ADR had lodged a complaint with the CEO office that some of the candidates in the fray have criminal antecedents. According to ADR there are seven candidates with criminal antecedent from different political parties who are being fielded for the Goa Assembly by-poll. For the Lok Sabha elections in Goa, ADR believes that at least three candidates have criminal records.
In fact, today we have reached a stage where criminalisation of politics is widely accepted as inevitable and a norm. Persons known to have a criminal past are not only getting party tickets, but on account of their clout, are also being appointed as ministers at the Union and at the State. Leaders of political parties stoutly defend any criticism of such choices.
To add further salt to the wound, in the event of conviction in the court of law and resulting disqualification, with the blessings of their party establishments, such elements are encouraged to pass on their mantle to their wives and progeny. However, it is a pleasant augury that many such proxy candidates get defeated in the polls but at the same time some do win due to money and muscle power. The fact remains that despite the best efforts of the Election Commission, the use of muscle and money power is a harsh reality and significantly influences the voting behaviour and the electoral outcome in many constituencies in every elections.
The ambiguity and inadequacy of the rules and regulations relating to political party funding (including provisions allowing for anonymous donations) comes out starkly as perhaps the prime reason for colossal amounts of money going into the party exchequer and allowing extensive opportunities for non-transparent and illegal financing, which cannot be traced or sanctioned. This has also given rise to criminalisation in politics as many successful candidates soon after their victory start activities which would secure them financially for their next election.