Over the last three general elections, there has been an alarming increase in the incidence of criminals in politics. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms report 2019, out of the 539 winners analysed in Lok Sabha 2019, 233 (43%) winners have declared criminal cases against themselves. Out of the 542 winners analysed during Lok Sabha elections in 2014, 185 (34%) winners had declared criminal cases against themselves. Out of the 543 winners analysed during Lok Sabha elections in 2009, 162 (30%) winners had declared criminal cases against themselves. There is an increase of 44% in the number of MPs with declared criminal cases since 2009.
According to the survey report on ‘governance issues and voting behaviour’ conducted by Association for Democratic Reforms in 2018, although 97.86% voters felt that candidates with criminal background should not be in Parliament or State Assembly, only 35.20% voters knew that they could get information on criminal records of the candidates.
In relation to voting candidates with criminal antecedents, the maximum number of voters (36.67%) felt that people vote for such candidates because they are unaware of his/her criminal records.
For a participative form of democracy, it is important that the voters’ are educated in the right manner. In 2002 and subsequently, in 2003, the Supreme Court made it mandatory for all the candidates contesting elections to disclose their criminal, financial and educational background prior to the polls by filing an affidavit with the Election Commission of India. Moreover, in a recent judgment passed by Hon’ble Supreme Court in Public Interest Foundation v. Union of India, political parties have been directed to publish criminal antecedents of contesting candidates along with reasons for fielding each one of these candidates, notwithstanding their ‘winnability’.
Voters have the right to know the criminal antecedents of the candidates which come under the purview of Article 19(1)(a) and looking at the alarming situation of criminalisation of politics, electronic voting machine (EVM) could be used as a tool for the effective exercise of such a right.
If the name, photo and election symbol of the candidates with criminal antecedents are printed in red colour on ballot papers, and the total number of pending cases against such candidates, the total number of cases in which charges have been framed against such candidates and the total number of cases in which such candidates have been convicted are printed in a bracket, below or against the name of such candidates, on ballot papers, then voters could identify such candidates and thereby make an informed choice.
Therefore, in order to help voters identify candidates with criminal antecedents so that they could exercise their right to vote wisely and to curb criminalisation of politics, Election Commission of India should issue necessary directions in order to: