By Jai Prakash Ojha for Youth Ki Awaaz:
The stage is all set for the 3rd phase of the Bihar Assembly Elections in 41 constituencies on 28 October 2015. One of the hallmarks of this election has been the distribution of a large number of tickets to candidates who have criminal cases pending against them despite all the dim and bustle about the need to purge the political system. Out of 808 candidates in the 3rd phase, 215 have criminal cases against them. 162 candidates out of 215 are charged with serious criminal offences like murder, kidnapping and crimes against women as per the ADR report based on affidavits of candidates.
In the 1st phase for 49 constituencies, out of 583 candidates, 170 have criminal antecedents. The picture is not different for the 2nd phase as 140 candidates have criminal cases against them out of a total number of 456. All the parties have been guilty of putting up criminal candidates and this has happened despite the ban on convicted candidates from contesting elections, the proactive role of civil society and judiciary and the crusading role of the Election Commission in ensuring free and fair elections.
Why do the political parties put up muscle men as their candidates? There is nothing much to ponder over this as it is not a big deal. Most of the criminal candidates in Bihar have a ‘Robin Hood’ type of image and they are not short of finances when it comes to distribution of freebies, cash and liquor. They may extort and kidnap, but keep their constituency in good humour. The chances of success are therefore more.
Since, a major chunk of the electorate is poor and illiterate, freebies attract them rather than any political vision – which has never been the trademark of criminal candidates. People want instant benefits and also protection. Since all the parties give tickets to such elements, there is very little to choose among the candidates and electorate has very few options. In this era of coalition governments and unstable political equations, it is very important for major political parties to prevent their MLAs from horse trading and poaching. It is here that the role of musclemen becomes pivotal to shape the fortunes of any party. Moreover, support of the musclemen ensures not only caste votes for the party but also votes cutting across caste lines as most of the criminal candidates have developed a patron–client sort of relationship with the people. Very few people dare to go against the wishes of these candidates as the repercussions are quite often dangerous. It’s not only the fear factor that fetches votes for the musclemen, but it is also their ability to get the work of their voters done even when the ruling party is not friendly. A normal politician if not in power finds it difficult to get the work of his/her supporters done.
All said and done, it can’t be denied that very often, political leaders agitate over public issues or issues that attract votes. The ruling parties slap them with cases for political reasons. There is a need to separate serious crimes from politics.
All the parties need the mafia to buttress their chances. In the recently concluded 2014 Lok Sabha elections, around one-third of the elected representatives have criminal backgrounds. When we look at Bihar, according to Bihar Election Watch, the 2010 Bihar Assembly witnessed 141 MLAs with criminal cases getting elected. Out of these MLAs, 85 are having serious charges against them. Despite the entire hullabaloo, the number of criminal candidates registered a sharp increase of 21 percent compared to 2005 Assembly Elections. Entry of more and more such candidates may sabotage the sanctity of the House. Already, the nation has seen the quality of debates and discussions going down as members don’t hesitate to exercise their lung power and use unparliamentary language. Disruptions are the new norms in parliamentary democracy. The new lows in vocabulary in Bihar elections campaigning may be fallout of these rowdy elements. Their entry in the House as law-makers is ludicrous as law-breakers can’t be expected to make laws. It is also a sad reflection of the sordid state of affairs into which the nation has plunged.
‘Bihar Elections With Ojha’ is part of Youth Ki Awaaz’s special coverage of the Bihar 2015 elections.