Elections 2019: Need to move from disclosure to disqualification of criminal candidates

Updated: March 19, 2019 7:14:32 AM

Last year, the SC had asked the government to set up fast-track courts to deal with cases dealing with elected representatives. The Prime Minister’s maiden speech in the Rajya Sabha mentioned this issue of cleansing politics and fast-track courts.

Elections 2019: Need to move from disclosure to disqualification of criminal candidates (Illustration: rohnit phore)Elections 2019: Need to move from disclosure to disqualification of criminal candidates (Illustration: rohnit phore)

By Ajit Ranade

In September last year, the Supreme Court rejected a bunch of petitions that asked for disqualification of criminal candidates in elections. The decision came almost twenty years after the first successful petition filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) in the Delhi High Court, asking for disclosure of criminal cases, financial and educational details of candidates.

From disclosure to disqualification is a long unfinished journey. The Attorney General, defending the central government, said the apex court cannot add new disqualifications since this is in the legislative domain.

The fact of the matter is that, according to the government’s own affidavit, 1,765 people’s representatives in state and national legislatures, i.e. MPs and MLAs, have criminal cases against them. That is close to 33%. Many pending cases are for heinous crimes, like mur-der, rape, kidnapping and extortion.

Last year, the SC had asked the government to set up fast-track courts to deal with cases dealing with elected representatives. The Prime Minister’s maiden speech in the Rajya Sabha mentioned this issue of cleansing politics and fast-track courts.

For the past two decades, ADR and the National Election Watch network have been consistently documenting and disseminating the data on pending cases, wealth and education of candidates, taken from their own self sworn affidavits. There is now a cumulative database of close to 60,000 persons who have contested state or national level elections.

In recent years, even local election data has been compiled, since the same disclosure requirement applies. The data includes a large set of candidates who are repeat contestants and hence, present an interesting time trend of data on wealth as disclosed by their affidavits over several elections.

For instance, the number of crorepatis in Parliament increased from 156 to 315 to 449 from 2004 till 2014. The average wealth of the present outgoing Lok Sabha is around `14 crore, and in the Rajya Sabha, it is `55 crore.

The increase in wealth of sitting MP’s who re-contest, as also repeat candidates who lose, is upward of 140%.

Similarly, the percentage of MPs with criminal cases went up from 12 to 15 to 21 in the last three Lok Sabhas. In an insightful section of his excellent book titled “When Crime Pays”, Carnegie scholar Milan Vaishnav showed that having criminal cases increase the probability of winning from 6 to 16%, which is further enhanced if the candidate is also the richest in the constituency. Money power increases the chances of winning. And criminal record does not seem to deter candidates and voters alike.

So, the Supreme Court, while unable to disqualify, insisted that criminality be given wide publicity in print and electronic media, both by candidates and the party. There were five state assembly elections after that SC verdict, but alas its instruction was observed mostly in the breach.

This is tantamount to contempt of court. It is hoped that in this Lok Sabha elections affidavit information, especially of pending criminal cases, is given wide publicity, and voters make an informed and ethical choice.

The author is co-founder and trustee, Association for Democratic Reforms

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