In 1950, when the Indian Constitution decided to adopt Universal Adult Franchise, it came as a shock to many. The country was still quite poor and not many people understood the importance of their vote. The upshot of adopting Universal Suffrage so soon was that the underdeveloped institutions failed to deliver what the citizens voted for. The failure of these government institutions paved the way for criminals to enter politics.
Milan Vaishnav in his book “When Crime Pays” talks about how, till the 1980s, criminals used to act as the muscle power behind politicians and in exchange received lucrative state concessions such as mining rights. It is interesting to understand what transformed these criminals from being hired as guns of politicians to themselves becoming full-time politicians. Vaishnav says in his book, “Three trends – political fragmentation, deepening competition and continued Congress decline – converged in the late 1980s to break open the political system in an unprecedented manner”. What he means is that with the emergence of a multi-party system, Congress started to fade away as a political force and bribing its local representatives became less of a sure thing. Hence, these criminals had to take the giant leap and themselves become full-time politicians.
What was astounding was the ease with which these criminals were allowed into their folds by political parties. What do political parties gain by recruiting these criminals, even though it can be self-defeating as their image can be tarnished?
This is where the role of a multi-party system comes in. The elections have become competitive and the electorate size has increased making elections a costly affair. Voters need to be wooed with goodies and rich criminals bring in the required cash. The criminals fill the party coffers because of which they are tolerated.
Another important question is why don’t the voters, who demand democratic accountability, express their dissatisfaction by rejecting these malefactors? Firstly, to ridicule the ‘ignorant voter’ hypothesis, we need to understand that the voters vote for these criminals despite their criminal records.
Talking about Raghuraj Pratap Singh (or Raja Bhaiya, as he is called), a six time MLA from Kunda in UP, a local villager said, “He enjoys immense support because he gets the job done for people. We do not care about his criminal activities as long as he helps us.”
Raja Bhaiya has a high criminal record including alleged murder and rape and still has managed to win each time he has contested elections. In 2003, the SC passed an order which made it compulsory for all candidates to submit and publicly disclose all their current and past criminal records. Since then, the number of MP’s with criminal records has increased. In 2004, 24% Lok Sabha MP’s had criminal records, in 2009, the number increased to 30% and in 2014, the number increased further moved to 34%.
According to “The Economist”, since 2004, the chance of a candidate with no criminal record winning an election is 6% whereas the chance of a candidate with a criminal record is thrice as much with 18%. This shows a clear pattern indicating that the voters are not ignorant and vote for these criminals because of their criminal records.
The voters get swayed towards these criminals when the government fails to do its job. Vaishnav writes, “Where the rule of law is weakly enforced and social divisions are rampant, a candidate’s criminal reputation could be perceived as an asset”.
They employ their muscle power and get the job done for the people. Sometimes they reap benefits from the existing social injustices and portray themselves as a ‘messiah’ for a particular community, fighting for their rights, thereby gaining their confidence and hence, their vote.
Another significant name is that of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy or YSR and his son Jagan Mohan Reddy. YSR’s father, Raja Reddy was a strongman known for taking matters into his own hands. YSR followed his father’s path and entered politics. He had eventually become the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh.
His father’s position as the chief minister served Jagan really well. In 2004, when YSR first became CM, Jagan’s assets were estimated at around $14,000. By 2009, the amount increased to a whopping $11 Million and by 2014, his net worth was more than $62 million. Thereby, power and money did go hand in hand for YSR and his son.
The admittance of such people into our parliament and state assemblies is nothing less than a mockery of our constitutional ethos. It is disheartening to note that even after knowing their reality, we decide to vote for them.
Subsequent orders from the highest court of justice have failed to curb this menacing trend. Pressure must be built upon the government by social activists and media houses to amend the existing laws and introduce rigid criteria for the entrants who wish to partake in any election. Also, if the suggestion of Election Commission to introduce state funding is given a serious thought, such rich goons will not be able to lure the political parties and the electorates.