Recent years have witnessed an alarming growth in the criminalization of politics in India, both in its qualitative and quantitative dimensions. The process of criminalization of politics has deep links with the economic, social and cultural arenas of Indian Society.
Political crime can be defined as politically motivated law-breaking behaviour by an individual. A political criminal is one who has been identified by the authorities as a potential threat because of their ideology or anti-social acts, and is seen to challenge the system. The most common form of this political malfunction is criminalization of the electoral process as well as of democratic institutions and the economy. Criminalization of politics is in fact the product of the political elite, which directly or indirectly utilise illegal ways to hold on to their positions of power and privilege.
Over time, the criminalization of politics has led to the politicisation of crime or criminals. Politicisation of crime involves the competitive use of anti-social forces for the mobilisation of party funds, for management of elections, for organizing meetings and conferences etc. It also includes the misuse of criminal intelligence as a political tool for blackmailing political opponents. Criminalization of politics means direct entry of criminals into the political parties and legislature, including Parliament. It also means the use of criminal methods and tactics to influence political processes and procedures.
Now let’s turn an eye to some troubling but true facts and statistics regarding this nexus. Out of 543 members of Lok Sabha in 2009, nearly 30% faced pending criminal cases before the courts. Bear in mind that these are cases, not convictions – it can take years for cases to move up through our country’s sluggish judicial system. Around 14% of parliamentarians faced serious cases like murder, attempt to murder, physical assault, kidnapping etc.
Based on the three most recent general elections (2004, 2009 & 2014), a candidate with a criminal case was, on average, almost three times as likely to win an election than a candidate who faced no cases. And of those facing cases, the win rate of candidates with serious charges was marginally higher than those with only minor charges.
It is unfortunate that no countervailing force to check the criminalization of politics is emerging. In recent court orders ranging from the Supreme Court to High Courts to lower courts, the judiciary has been busy stumping the criminal politicians, quashing their bail applications, and ordering arrest warrants. Unlike the campaign against corrupt or stained ministers in Parliament, this battle is neither partisan nor for hypocritical interests.
In my considered opinion, a person who is facing trial for a serious offence, if kept out of the electoral process till he is cleared of the charge, should not have a legitimate grievance. As the Chief Election Commissioner had stated to the Prime Minister in 1997, “such restrictions on his right to contest elections would be a reasonable restriction in the greater public interest and for bringing sanctity to the august Houses which are the supreme law making bodies of the country.”