By Abhishek Jha:
About one-third of the contesting candidates in the third phase of Bihar elections scheduled for October 28 have criminal cases against themselves according to their own declared affidavits that Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has analysed in its report. Out of a total of 808 candidates contesting in the 50 constituencies, 215 (27%) have declared criminal cases against themselves and 162 out of those are ‘serious’ criminal cases. The ADR report categorises ‘serious’ criminal cases as those which relate to offenses punishable with imprisonment of 5 or more years, or non-bailable offenses, electoral offenses, offenses related to loss of exchequer, offenses related or murder, kidnapping, and rape, those mentioned in Representation of the People Act (Section 8), Prevention or Corruption Act, and those related to crimes against women.
RJD (68%), BJP (62%), and JDU (56%) have the most percentage of candidates with criminal charges against them. 16 of the 17 candidates of RJD with criminal cases have one or more of the serious charges against them. BSP (19%), CPI (37%), and SP (39%) have the least percentage of candidates with criminal charges against them.
There has been a regular demand from the election commission that people with pending criminal cases be debarred from elections to prevent criminalisation of politics. In a long practised refrain, political parties have always stated that false and defamatory charges might then become a tactic to disqualify worthy candidates. Politicians are correct in saying that an ongoing criminal case cannot prove anybody guilty or be indicative of a conviction in future. The 2013 SC judgement that struck down section 8(4) of the Representation of Peoples Act, on the other hand, now implies that a convicted MP or MLA immediately loses his seat. A recent example is the conviction of Jayalalithaa in the disproportionate assets case by a Bangalore special court, after which she had to step down as the CM. She had to appeal in a higher court before she was acquitted of all charges this summer.
However, there is a fair chance of some of the candidates getting convicted. And the more number of candidates with criminal cases a party fields, a commonsensical statistical guess is that the party will have more number of candidates who stand a chance of being convicted at some stage. This would hurt the party too, unless it aims to unlawfully influence the judicial process. Moreover, this data being available to voters these days through user-friendly apps, there is a chance that the voter will be suspicious of parties that field candidates with criminal cases.
The expectation from political parties is simple. The law is definitely not aware of a candidate’s guilt until it is so proven, and perhaps this is what the voter too believes as even elected ministers have criminal charges against them. The criminal-political nexus develops when a political party fields a criminal precisely so that they may exercise extraneous power. This game can be played only as long as some new party – with a cleaner slate – does not play spoilsport, which happened with the arrival of AAP in Delhi (irrespective of all that’s happened after). All parties should learn this lesson. Or the public may teach them one.