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Criminalisation of politics

GS Paper 2

 Syllabus: Governance

 

Source: TH

 Context: The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has approached the Election Commission of India (ECI) seeking action against political parties that fail to publish details of candidates’ criminal antecedents as ordered by the Supreme Court.

 

Meaning of Criminalization of Politics:

The criminalisation of politics refers to the phenomenon where individuals with criminal backgrounds or pending criminal cases actively participate in politics and hold positions of power.

It signifies the infiltration of criminal elements into the political system, compromising the integrity and functioning of democratic institutions.

 

Status of Criminalization of Politics:

  • Increase in the number of MPs with criminal charges: In 2004, 24% of parliamentarians had pending criminal cases, which rose to 43% in 2019.
  • According to data compiled by the Amicus Curiae, a total of 4,984 criminal casesinvolving legislators were pending in various courts across the country as of 1st December 2021.
  • In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, 159 MPs had declared serious criminal cases against them, including those of rape, murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, and crimes against women.

 

Causes of Criminalisation of Politics:

Causes Examples
Vote Bank Politics Candidates and parties engaging in vote-buying and other illegal practices to secure votes
Political leaders maintain close ties with criminal elements to mobilize support and win elections
Corruption Politicians involved in bribery, embezzlement, and other corrupt practices for personal gains
Misuse of power and resources for personal enrichment, leading to a culture of corruption in politics
Vested Interests Voters prioritise caste, religion, or community affiliations over the criminal records of candidates
Election of politicians with criminal backgrounds based on narrow community interests rather than merit or accountability
Muscle Power Use of muscle power, intimidation, and violence to control elections and suppress opposition
Politicians with criminal backgrounds employ “goondas” or hired muscle to influence voters and secure electoral victories
Money Power Influence of black money, illegal funding, and mafia connections in financing election campaigns
Politicians use illicit funds to buy votes, manipulate election outcomes, and sustain their political dominance
Weak Governance Lack of stringent laws and regulations to deter criminal activities in politics
Inadequate enforcement of election laws, allowing politicians with criminal records to participate and win elections

 

 

Impact of Criminalisation of Politics:

Impact Description
Erosion of Democratic Values Candidates with criminal backgrounds winning elections undermines the principles of free and fair elections, limiting voter choice
Weakening of Governance Law-breakers becoming law-makers hampers effective governance
Compromised Integrity of Institutions Normalizes corruption and erodes public trust in government
Increased Criminal Activities Politicians involved in organized crime or protection rackets e.g., Recently deceased former MP Atiq Ahmed of Uttar Pradesh had several charges of being involved in Criminal activities
Social Disharmony Violence and unrest due to the influence of criminal politicians, Political clashes and violence during elections
Deterioration of Public Perception Decreased faith in the political system and public disillusionment led to lesser participation in the democratic process
Undermining the Rule of Law Politicians involved in criminal activities create a culture of impunity
Hindrance to Development Diversion of resources for personal gain rather than public welfare
Threat to National Security Politicians with connections to terrorist groups or organized crime networks

 

Suggestions against the Criminalization of Politics:

Aspect Summary
ADR Recommendation ADR recommends permanent disqualification of candidates convicted of serious criminal offences from contesting elections. ADR has also asked the ECI to publish a list of defaulting parties.
Legal Aspects ·        Indian Constitution does not specify disqualification criteria due to criminality.

·        Representation of Peoples Act 1951 (Section 8) disqualifies individuals punished with a jail term of more than two years from standing in elections for six years after the jail term has ended.

Law Commission The 244th report (2014) recommends the disqualification of individuals with charges framed against them at least one year before the scrutiny of nominations for an offence punishable with a sentence of five years or more.
Government Initiative The Union government started a scheme in 2017 to establish 12 special courts for a year to fast-track the trial of criminal cases against MPs and MLAs.
Supreme Court Judgements ·        Association for Democratic Reforms v. Union of India (2002): Candidates must declare criminal and financial records along with educational qualifications.

·        Lily Thomas v. Union of India (2013): MPs or MLAs convicted of a crime and sentenced to a prison term of two years or more are disqualified from holding office.

·        Public Interest Foundation v. Union of India (2019): Political parties must publish candidates’ criminal records on websites, social media handles, and newspapers.

 

Other suggestions:

  • State Funding of Elections: Committees on electoral reforms, such as the Dinesh Goswami and Inderjeet Committee, recommend state funding of elections to reduce the use of black money and limit the criminalization of politics.
  • Strengthening Election Commission
  • Voters need to remain vigilant and report any misuse of money, gifts, or inducements during elections.
  • Proactive Role of the Judiciary: Fast-tracking the judicial process can help eliminate corruption and criminal elements from the political system. It requires a time-bound justice delivery system, stronger actions by the Election Commission, and necessary amendments to relevant laws.
  • Amending the Representation of Peoples Act (RPA) of 1951 to disqualify individuals with pending serious criminal charges from contesting elections.

 

Conclusion:

The criminalization of politics poses a serious threat to democracy and good governance. It undermines the principles of free and fair elections, affects the integrity of public servants, causes social disharmony, and erodes public trust in the government. Addressing this issue is crucial for the health and functioning of democratic systems.

 

About ADR:

Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an electoral watchdog established in 1999 by a group of professors from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad to pursue electoral reforms in India.

 

Insta Links:

Criminalization of Politics

 

Mains Links

It is often said that ‘politics’ and ‘ethics’ do not go together. What is your opinion in this regard? Justify your answer with illustrations. ( UPSC 2013)