Criminal past not a deterrent in India’s regional elections

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A third of candidates for Wednesday’s first election phase in India’s eastern state of Bihar has been implicated in a criminal case, according to a report by a non-governmental organisation.

Over 30 per cent of the 1,000 odd candidates have been charged with or are under investigation for crimes including extortion and even murder, attempted murder or rape, according to data compiled by the Association of Democratic Rights (ADR).

Bihar’s legislative assembly has 243 seats, with 71 to be decided during Wednesday’s vote, the first of three balloting phases.

ADR has flagged 61 of the 71 seats as “red alert constituencies’’ where three or more contesting candidates declared they have been charged or are under criminal investigation.

Political parties fielding candidates with a known criminal past is not a new phenomenon in Indian politics.

At least 43 per cent of lawmakers elected in 2019 to the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of parliament, have faced criminal charges, up from 34 per cent in 2014.

Candidates in Indian elections have to declare in their nomination papers whether there are criminal cases pending against them or if they have been charged, otherwise their nomination could be rejected.

Candidates also have to publish information about their criminal antecedents in local newspapers and television channels during the campaign period.

In February, the Supreme Court noted an alarming increase in the incidence of criminals in politics and made it mandatory for political parties to justify their candidate picks.

In the Bihar elections, all the main political parties have fielded candidates with a criminal past.

The parties said their choice of such candidates was based on the probability of their winning, their popularity and social work, India Today magazine reported.

An analysis by ADR of the 2014 general elections shows that alleged or convicted criminal candidates indeed have a high probability of winning.

The winning chances for a candidate with criminal cases were 13 per cent, compared to  5 per cent for a candidate with a clean record.

Bihar’s last assembly already had 136 legislators – or 57 per cent – with declared criminal cases, including serious charges like murder.

So why do Indian voters elect people despite knowing they have committed a crime or are under investigation

The ADR analysis indicates that voters would actually prefer a candidate with a clean record but are often faced with a lack of choice.

According to political scientist Milan Vaishnav, the key factor motivating parties to pick candidates with criminal records is cold, hard cash, he writes in his book “When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle Power in Indian Politics.’’

In India’s system of self-financed elections, parties tend to choose candidates who can not only cover the expenses for contesting but who can also contribute to the party’s coffers.

“Individuals associated with criminal wrongdoing have both deep pockets and the willingness to invest resources in the service of politics,’’ as it gives them more power and influence, writes Vaishnav.(dpa/NAN)

– Oct. 28, 2020 @ 12:35 GMT |

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