Crime Pays In Politics
By Poonam I Kaushish
Taint is the flavour of the new high stakes poll season in Karnataka. The more criminal and immoral, the better. In the last few days, our netagan have once again conclusively proved that this combination to power is all pervasive. After all, the kursi is the most luscious mistress to be loved, raped and conquered at all costs along-with the paisa that goes with it. Worse, even the faint wisp of demeanor has been discarded with the devil taking the hind most!
In this free-for-all khichri what is disturbing and more distressing is that all Parties are openly recognizing and nominating criminals as candidates. Wherein the rogues’ gallery of bandits, racketeers and murderers have filled the halls of power and fame. Sadly, none care a damn in a winner-takes-it-all scenario.
Shockingly, of the 2,654 candidates contesting in Karnataka’s Assembly elections 645 have criminal cases against them. Of these 28% are from the three main Parties, Congress, BJP and Janata Dal (S), according to an Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) analysis. The BJP tops the list with 83 (37%) of its 224 contenders facing criminal charges.
The Congress comes second with 59 (26%) of 220 and 41(20%) of 199 Janata Dal (S) contestants are embroiled in criminal cases. Worse, instead of a decrease the number of ‘criminals’ as candidates has gone up to 391 in 2018, from 334 in the 2013 elections.
Why? With power translating into a number game, Parties field mafia dons as they convert their muscle power into votes, often at gun point and emerge victorious. The arrangement works on a quid-pro-quo. Candidates with criminal connections are attractive to Parties as they often have deep pockets of cold, hard cash to fund and fight elections and in turn Parties give criminals protection from the law and respectability in society. Topped, by criminal candidates presenting themselves as Robin Hood-like figures.
Not only Karnataka, all States Assemblies and Parliament are stained by the same brush. Chilling reality and cold Government statistics are on my side that shows that politics has nothing to do with morality and accountability. Crime is now politics and criminalisation of politics the current dispensation. Turn to any part of the country politico-criminals are now ruling the roost.
How common place their hall of power and shame is an eye-opener. Of the 541 MPs in Parliament today 186 (34%) are facing serious criminal charges including murder (9), attempted murder (17), kidnapping and crimes against women. Worse, the number has steadily risen since 2004. Out of 543 Lok Sabha MPs in 2009-14 162 (30%) had cases pending, up from 128 (24%) in 2004-09. Further, more than 30%, 1460 of 4807 sitting MPs and MLAs have declared criminal cases, 688 of whom with “serious” charges.
Appalling is the situation in the States. Shockingly, Jharkhand has the highest percentage 74% of MLAs with cases pending (55 out of 74 MLAs), Bihar 58% and UP with 47%. More scandalous, Parties present an ugly picture. The JMM accounts for 82 %, RJD 64% SP 48%, BJP 31% and Congress 21% of criminal MPs and MLAs’.
From criminalisation of politics to the politicisation of crime, India has indeed come a full circle. Yesterday’s mafia dons are today our Right Honourables with their “bullet-proof vests.” Unreachable by the long arms of law, they are the law and all-powerful. Bringing things to such a pass that our elected jan sevaks now dance to the tune of their underworld benefactors at the cost of the janata, democratic ethos and good governance.
Think. Mafia dons have been elected from prisons, some MPs continue to hold durbars in jail, with all home comforts, instruct chamchas via cellphone and rule their empire, issuing diktats that few dare disobey. Not a few take the anticipatory bail route to avoid arrest, others simply abscond only to “surrender” when ready. Only recently, Lalu’s RJD came up trumps in the Bihar elections despite him being in jail.
One could dismiss this politicization of crime as an evolving phase of our democratic process. But the tragedy is that our democratic system has been usurped by criminals. Be it a petty thug, dus numeriya or a mafia don. The only thing that matters is on whose side the criminal is. His or ours? They are all the same. Only the degrees differ.
Akin to the famous story. An angry man tells an American official that the man the US was championing abroad was “a son of a bitch”! Pat came the response, “Yes; but he’s our son of a bitch”!
It is this mutual benefit and camaraderie between the criminal-party nexus which is the cause célèbre for our netagan resisting passing any legislation that would rid politics of the cancer of the three C’s — criminalization, corruption and crisis of credibility. See, how our MPs and MLAs divide along Party lines on most issues but close ranks when it comes to taking steps to addressing this problem.
Reading like a virtual whose who: Former Union Railway Minister and ex-Bihar Chief Minister RJD’s Lalu Yadav, YSR Congress’s Jaganmohan Reddy, 2010 Commonwealth Games in-charge Congress’s Suresh Kalmadi, ex Haryana and Jharkhand Chief Ministers Hooda and Madhu Koda and AIDMK’s Shashikala et al. There are 450 ‘tainted’ constituencies where at least one candidate faces criminal charges, in 104 two and 56 with over 5 contenders.
Undoubtedly, India’s downslide has been rapid. Most distressing is that it doesn’t strike any cord anywhere as Parties are openly recognizing and nominating criminals as candidates. Why? Because there is no rule of law and the State has lost its Iqbal, authority to govern and arrest those who break the law.
Thanks to a weak police and legal system which ensures that mafia-turned netagan get away with murder. They rule by law: use force with impunity, collect protection money, settle disputes unlike the State bogged down in legal wrangles and use loads of money to muscle out honest candidates. A milieu of jo jeeta woh sikander, a vicious circle of you scratch my back, I scratch yours!
Why do mafia dons invest large sums in getting a neta’s tag? It is a ticket to continue extortions using political power, gain influence and ensure that cases against them are dropped. Thanks to legal delays, often abetted by political pressures, make convictions of resourceful crooks rather rare. Besides, the returns on political investments are so high and profitable that criminals are disinclined to invest in anything else.
In a environment wherein our Parliamentary system has now been hijacked by the criminalisation of politics and where the mafia dons get away like escape artists, the aam aadmi is naturally cynical. No one wants to vote for a criminal. And yet for years criminals have been using the electoral system to enter politics, with the janata hopelessly looking on.
Alas, crime and politics will remain inextricably intertwined as long as India doesn’t make its election financing system transparent, Parties become more democratic and the State begins to deliver ample services and justice.
Clearly, no longer will technical or legalistic response suffice. The answer must lie in good, clean democratic political practice, watchdog media and a vigilant public opinion that insists on raising the bar for all Parties. Importantly, if we do not urgently put the correctives in place, today’s criminal king-makers may be tomorrow’s kings! —- INFA