Criminalization of Politics

CRIMINALISATION OF politics and persons known to have a criminal past becoming legislators and ministers has not only become common but is being openly defended by leaders of political parties. A stage has now been reached when politicians openly boast of their criminal connections.

A statement made in the assembly by a minister of a north Indian state that he patronised and would continue to patronise gangsters to fight and win elections is an indication of the growing phenomenon where criminal background has become a prerequisite to win elections. Despite the countrywide debate generated by the Vohra Committee Report on criminalisation of politics, the system has changed only for the worse. Earlier in the 1960’s, the criminal was content helping (covertly) the politician win the election so he could in turn get protection from him. The roles have now been reversed. It is now the politician, who seeks protection from criminals. The latter seek direct access to power and hence become legislators or ministers.

The Election Commission’s observation that nearly 40 members of the 11th Lok Sabha and 700 members of the state assemblies had a criminal past proves this. The Election Commission’s requirement that the prospective candidates file an affidavit listing the criminal charges they face has hardly made any dent in the growing criminalisation of politics. Some radical reforms in the existing law need to be undertaken urgently. Until this is done, political parties could take some initiative to curb this trend, by denying tickets to politicians with a criminal background. Far from it, party leaders invariably issue tickets to those with a criminal past because they can not only win elections, but also help other candidates win. The Election Commission is powerless in preventing criminals from contesting elections. The Representation of People Act allows it to debar candidates convicted of certain crimes, but cannot prevent those under trial or whose appeals...