Criminalization of Politics
"Democracy is a faith in the spiritual possibilities of not a privileged few but of every human being."
Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
Amidst a zillion form of crisis, the largest democracy of the world is facing yet another pressing issue of criminalisation in the profession of politics. Taking favours, in the form of votes or funds, from the criminals and employing them for shady manoeuvres and muscle power in exchange of reciprocal favours are some manifestations of crime seeping into the bureaucracy of India. Politicisation of criminals is another aspect birthed from the same roots. A report from Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) states that 43% winners of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections have criminal cases against them.
The Judiciary is constantly trying to fix the loopholes in the selection process of the legislature, the Lily Thomas case[i] being one of the effective steps taken towards this issue, yet it is the powerless disposition of the Election Commission of India and respect for the separation of powers that gives the perpetrators a free pass. In February, 2020, the apex court once again stressed on the ‘alarming rise’ of the criminalization rate[ii] and reminded the Parliament that it should act according to the guidelines issued in 2018 in the upcoming Bihar elections, however, a vision of ‘strong and pure’ democracy seems a far fetched idea keeping in mind the flaccid character of political affairs.
FACTORS BEHIND THE RISE IN CRIMINALISATION OF POLITICS
There has been a long history of politicians and jail in India. During the British era the politicians/freedom fighters went to jail for reform but, today the politicians go to jail for no reform but are indeed petty criminals. For politics today has become not the last but the first resort of the scoundrel. An important reason for the criminalization of politics is the very system of power that operates in India.
A large number of cases have become known to indicate the unholy alliance between the organized crime, the politicians and the bureaucrats that has reached an alarming state. In many cases, criminals are found to be aided and abetted by politicians and bureaucrats. The intelligence agencies have told that the nexus between them has become a pervasive reality. The recent encounter of Vikas Dubey has once again raised many eyebrows. The various reasons often cited for the same are the muscle power, money power, Vote Bank Politics, Corruption, Loopholes within the Election Rules, etc.
The muscle and money power:
Describing the role of money in elections, the then Chief Election Commissioner of India had said that about Rs.10,000 crores of black money was spent in the 2012 UP Assembly elections.[iii] The estimate shows the utter disregard of the upper limit i.e. 28 lakhs[iv] by several times and the rising cost of elections by each election passing by. The amount spent by the people on elections is much higher than their salary for the term. Where is this money to come from? Only criminal activities can generate such large sums of untaxed funds. That is why you have criminals in politics. They have money and muscle, so they win and help others in their party win as well. They not only fund the elections but also play a vital role in poll rigging, fear, threat etc. that helps the party win several seats. Once the political aspect joins the criminal elements, the nexus becomes extremely dangerous.
Emergence of vote bank politics:
Most of the votes are purchased by the politicians and are manoeuvrable so as to convert these votes in one’s side the parties tend to apply illegal means which is easily achieved with the help of goondas. Thus, creating a sort of symbiotic relationship between the two where both feed on public’s hard-earned money.
Loopholes within the Election Commission:
The role of curbing the political-criminal nexus has been entrusted by the constitution makers to the election commission of India, which is an independent body. There are several rules in place but the EC fails to inform the people about them. For eg.- Candidates are required to file their criminal record with the EC and the political parties and EC is required to publish the information related to each and every candidate on its website but hardly anyone is aware about it.
REFORM IN THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM
Over the years, there have been many reforms to curb the criminalisation of politics but all in vain. The reforms can be broadly categorised as judicial and legislative reforms, which are described as follows:
1. Judicial Reforms
The Supreme Court through its judgement in Union of India v. Association for Democratic Reforms & Anr.,[v] made it compulsory for the candidates to disclose their criminal records, if any, along with their financial and educational history. Although, the other two Pillars of democracy have resisted the SC’s move giving the theory Separation of Power. But, The Supreme Court has held that the right to information- the right to know antecedents, including the criminal history, or property of candidates - is a fundamental right provided by Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India and that the information is primal for the sustenance of democracy.
Another landmark case in this regard was Lily Thomas v. Union of India and Others [vi] where the grounds of disqualification of MPs and MLAs under the Representation of the People Act (hereinafter ‘the Act’), 1951, were modified. The contested provision was Sub-section (4) of Section 8 of the Act, which blocked immediate disqualification of a convicted MP or MLA. This sub-section was quashed and declared ‘ultra vires’ in 2013 hence ensuring no further loopholes in the governance.
Further, in 2019, a five-judge constitutional bench pronounced a verdict[vii], which issued guidelines for the Election Commission directing them to perform some specific checks on the party as well as the candidate before elections are conducted. The judiciary cannot interfere with the legislature, yet this does not renders it powerless in entirety. More recently, it has asked the Election Commission to implement the guidelines in the upcoming Bihar Legislative Assembly Elections, 2020.
2. Legislative Reforms
Committees after committees have been set up, hundreds of crores are spent but ultimately nothing comes out of it. One such committee is Vohra Committee. It was set up after the Bombay blasts of 1993, which shook the whole country. It was alleged to have involved the collaboration of a disseminate network of criminal gangs, police officers and custom officials along with their political supporters. The report observed “the various crime syndicate/mafia organisations have developed significant muscle and money power and established linkage with governmental functionaries, political leaders and others to be able to operate with impunity”.[viii]
The committee also highlighted the use of black money in the elections, which is the root cause of the criminalization of politics in India. The Committee cited other agencies to say that the Mafia network is “virtually running a parallel government, pushing the State apparatus into irrelevance.” The report also says, “In certain States like Bihar, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, these gangs enjoy the patronage of local politicians cutting across party lines and the protection of the functionaries. Some political leaders become the leaders of these gangs/armed senas and over the years get themselves elected to local bodies, State assemblies and national parliament.” This report has been cited repeatedly by the Supreme Court in its Judgements.
Data show that the quality of candidates, elected representatives leaves much to be desired. The role of big money and crime is vitiating elections and democracy. Though Governments change, the profile of elected representatives does not change. Once elected, Governments don’t always address the issues faced by ordinary people. Even when they do, they are not able to deliver results. Thus in the 21st century, issues like drinking water and other basic essential services continue to be on the top priority list of the people.
The criminalisation of politics and corruption hits the roots of democracy. There should be wide publicity of the candidates with criminal records, who are contesting in an election and the political parties that give them support. The publication must be such that it is easily available to the voters, that is not on the party’s official website as each voter won’t check the profile of each candidate and some might not even have access to or knowledge about this electronic means. This is important in order to curb criminalisation of politics.
[i] 7 SCC 653
[ii] 3 SCC 224
[iii] New Indian Express, Jan 10, 2012: Reforms must to rid polls of black money; IBN Live Jan10, 2012: Cash haul in UP, Punjab: black money running Assembly polls?; Times of India March 29, 2011: EC’s mission- track Rs.10,000 crore in 2 weeks.
[v] (2002) 5 SCC 294.
[vi] Supra Note 1.
[vii] Supra Note 2.
[viii] An Eye Opening Account of Crime-Politics Nexus, Vohra Committee Report, http://milapchoraria.tripod.com/rajyasabha/id13.html
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This blog has been authored by Saransh Agarwal who is a 4th Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam & Somya Singh who is a 2nd Year B.A., LL.B. (Hons.) student at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Bangalore.
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