[De]Criminalisation of Politics – The Full Monty

Shining Path

To reason with governments, as they have existed for ages, is to argue with brutes” – Thomas Paine, Rights of Man.

Last July, the Electoral College comprising MPs from both houses of Parliament and MLAs from the various State Legislative Assemblies in India cast their votes to elect the President of India.

However, what went unreported is that out of the 4800 odd members of the aforementioned Electoral College, a not insignificant number of worthies had declared criminal cases against their names on their pre-election affidavits. A report by Association of Democratic Reforms [ADR], highlighted this aspect, and I quote:

“National Election Watch [NEW] has analyzed the affidavits submitted to the Election Commission of India [ECI] of 772 out of 776 MPs and 4063 out of 4120 MLAs [a total of 4835 out of 4896] in all the states of India which form the Electoral College. Out of the 4835 MPs/MLAs, 1448 have declared criminal cases against them in a self sworn affidavit filed with the ECI.Out of these 1448 who have declared criminal cases, 641 MPs/MLAs have declared serious criminal cases like rape, murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, robbery, extortion etc.

There are 6 MPs/MLAs who have declared rape charges…. There are 141 MPs/MLAs who have declared murder charges, 352 have declared attempt to murder charges, 145 have declared theft charges, 90 have declared kidnapping charges and 75 have declared dacoity charges.”

Don’t wish to commit? Form a committee:

When did Indian Politics start its downward slide from the lofty to the grotesquely vile, till it finally reached a point where some even question the very sanctity of the Parliament? Various political analysts have suggested that the electoral landscape was first spotted sporting some serious gangarene-esque wounds in the early 1970’s. Things went pretty much downhill from there on – slip sliding away into a virtual cesspool.

Ironically, the political establishment has made multiple breathtakingly insincere attempts to tackle this malaise over the past 38 years. By forming committees! Here is the list below:

1975 – Tarkunde Committee Report

1990 – Goswami Committee on Electoral Reforms

1993 – Vohra Committee Report

1998 – Indrajit Gupta Committee on State Funding of Elections

1999 – Law Commission Report on Reform of the Electoral Laws

2001 – National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution

2004 – Election Commission of India – Proposed Electoral Reforms

2008 – The Second Administrative Reforms Commission

2010 – Background Paper on Electoral Reforms [Ministry of Law]

 Here are two more that are equally incisive, though not an outcome of some government- appointed committee:

 2002 – Background Paper on Electoral Reforms [Dr Jayaprakash Narayan]

2011 – NEW Recommendations for Electoral Reforms [submitted to Law Ministry & Election Commission of India]

Bury all the reports:

These reports pull no punches, are devoid of euphemisms and hit home hard on several key issues pertaining to all three stages of the Electoral Process: the pre, the actual process and the post.

Other than a few cosmetic and ineffective changes to the rules of engagement [anti-defection; a form here and an affidavit there, to capture criminal antecedents of candidates, declaration of assets etc], the reports have led to very little meaningful progress or reforms. Unless of course one assigns any meaning and weight to the highfalutin, high-minded and incredibly vacuous utterances on the subject by leaders from all political parties, and mistakes the same for action.

The evidence in support of the case that politicians have been sincerely trying to clean up the Electoral System, despite the well-meaning observations and recommendations of bureaucrats, academicians, legal luminaries, simply does not stack up. In fact, what becomes amply evident is that the current electoral landscape holds too many hidden contradictions in its folds, and hence can be summarily dismissed as one that is inconsistent and unstable. The most stunning contradiction of it all being, the power to make effective changes and modifications rests with the very same people who stand to lose the most [private gains, private wealth, private power] were such changes to be effected

The unholy troika of crime, business and politics:

Much ink has flowed on this subject – hence I will limit the narrative to the most essential. Perhaps the most trenchant views that have been expressed on this matter, have found their way into the slew of reports on Electoral Reforms.

Over time, the money power thus acquired [by organized crime/mafia] is used for building up contacts with bureaucrats and politicians and expansion of activities with impunity. The money power is used to develop a network of muscle power which is also used by the politicians during elections…. The nexus between the criminal gangs, police, bureaucracy and politicians” [one could add unethical business establishments to this list] “has come out clearly in various parts of the country”, noted the Vohra Committee Report.

After defining the form, construct and scale of the problem, almost all the reports then proceed to focus extensively on remedial measures and recommendations. As T.S.Krishnamurthy, Chief Election Commissioner 2004 noted, these measures “would go a long way in cleansing the political establishment from the influence of criminal elements and protecting the sanctity of the Legislative Houses”.

Space constraints prevent me from delving deeper into the issue, but suffice to say a re-look at some of the sections from the Representation of People Act, 1951 [click here and here for some insights into this] is pretty much a sine qua non, if the pachyderm in the room needs to be evicted. Alas, those who need to evict it, refuse to even acknowledge its presence, save for a few platitudes hither and a few near-anal banal mutterings thither.

It is not entirely uncommon to find people referring to the state of affairs – in hushed tones – as some mutant rotting version of democracy that is being run by a handful of feudal overlords who also happen to be elected repress-entatives. Whilst it is nobody’s case that such perceptions are not exaggerated depictions of reality, the other side to that story is that perceptions are never formed in a vacuum and the overwhelming perception in my neck of the woods is that the fence is not only eating the crop, it is also threatening to steal our goats and our fowls!

Weeding out this evil is quite easy – on paper. Legislative action, changes in the Criminal Justice System [with special focus on how the system gets gamed when it comes to the “influential” and the “politically connected”], voter awareness, leveraging mobile tele-density to disseminate vital information about contestants,  incorporating None of The Above [NOTA] option on the Electronic Voting Machines, moving away from First-past-the-post and towards Proportional Representation, recalibrating the election funding process and bringing in transparency into it [State funding? Mandatory donor list?], Public Interest Litigations that highlight and challenge the loopholes and grey areas [Section 8(4) of the RPA, 1951 being one example] but the most likely next step will be this –  the lawmakers, some of whom are themselves lawbreakers, will appoint another committee that studies the recommendations of all previous committees.

Kicking the can down the road.

It all boils down to four words – Lack of Political will.

Shining Path is a frequent blogger on Network 18 Group’s Firstpost.com and can be reached at shining.path.notperu@gmail.com.To read his other posts on criminalization of politics, politics as a means to generate obscene amounts of personal wealth [nation be damned], electoral reforms, criminal justice system, police reforms, judicial reforms, the great Indian silence factory [Mainstream Media] and other such useless, irrelevant and burning issues, click here.. http://www.firstpost.com/author/shiningpath.

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6 thoughts on “[De]Criminalisation of Politics – The Full Monty

  1. Extremely well written and thought provoking article.All pieces have been woven wonderfully.It goes to the very core of what’s wrong with our governance system.It’s high time that qualifications and proven achievements of politicians are made essential to stand for any election.leave alone a basic requirement of having a non criminal background.Also focus should be on voters education.

    1. Thank You Gaurav. Here is something i remembered on seeing your comment, and i quote – [as famously said by US SC judge Felix Frankfurter] “active citizenry is an essential condition for democracy to succeed. Democracy involves hardship, of unceasing responsibility of the active citizen. Where the entire people do not take a continuous and considered part in public life, there can be no democracy in any meaningful sense of the term. Democracy is always a beckoning goal, not a safe harbor. For freedom is an unremitting endeavor, never a final achievement. That is why no office in the land is more important than that of being a citizen’
      Cheers.

  2. The ball is in the public court now. Only public awareness, knowledge and activism can sort this awful mess.
    The scenario is pretty bleak and mostly seems hopeless not because there is no solution but due to lack of will, both political and public.
    The onus is now on ‘we the people’ to bring about the change in the system. We the people need to exert our will for a positive change. We need to force the political system to make reforms as their political agenda. Let us vow to support clean and non corrupt political candidates. Such seemingly simple acts are not only our moral obligations but can very well usher in revolutionary changes in the political system. Each of us needs to be a responsible and politically aware citizen.
    These are dark times but let us hope it is the darkness before the dawn.
    But at the same time let us not forget to keep the flicker of hope burning by lighting the candle of hope and optimism by doing our bit in the service of the nation.

    1. @ adonis: Good points all. Though on a lighter note, more irony than humour, i am reminded of Saramago’s “Seeing”, especially the parts where –
      1] he refers to the media tom-tomming the “harmonious binomial authority-obedience in whose light the happiest of human societies had always bloomed”. So much so for a spirit of enquiry and asking tough questions!
      2] his take on awareness and voter education – “It is an unvarying rule for those in power that, when it comes to heads, it is best to cut them off before they start to think, afterwards, it might be too late”
      3] and of course the cruel irony abt the “imposture of the times we live in” [as described in a review by the Independent] ,,,,,”not only are the people in government never put off by what we judge to be absurd, they make use of absurdities to dull consciences and destroy reason”

      But yes, hope lies eternal,,,,,,,so some keep chipping away with toffee hammers 🙂

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