Quality Of Leaders
By Poonam I Kaushish
Nothing costs a nation more than a cheap and venal politician. This lexicon was brutally underscored last week by the murder attempt on a girl by UP’s Unnao BJP MLA last week whom he had raped in 2017. Post the media frenzy the Party suspended the MLA, paid Rs 25 lakhs compensation and transferred the case to the CBI. But the case raises many disturbing questions: Have honest good leaders been guillotined for thugs and goons as winning the numbers game is paramount? Are criminal-politicos calling the shots in their “bullet-proof jackets” MP/MLA tag? Have ideology, morality and ethics been wantonly dumped?
Sadly, yes. Today, all Parties are brazenly nominating criminals as candidates resulting in racketeers, criminals and murderers filling the rogues’ gallery of power and fame. Shockingly, 233 or 44% of 545 Lok Sabha MPs have criminal cases of murder, kidnapping, crimes against women etc against them, an increase of 109% since 2009. One Congress MP has declared 204 cases including committing culpable homicide, house trespass, robbery, criminal intimidation.
The BJP has 116 MPs of 301(39%), Congress 29 MPs of 51 (57%), JD(U) 13 of 16 (81%), DMK 10 of 23 (43%) and TMC 9 MPs of 22 (41%). Of these 29% cases are serious: 10 MPs have convicted cases, 11 have cases related to murder, 30 attempt to murder and 19 crimes against women. This is higher than 2014 when 185 MPs (34%) had criminal cases and 2009 162 (30%).
Worse is the criminal content in States. Rough estimates aver that in any State election 20% candidates are criminals. In UP 143 (36%) of 403-MLAs, Bihar 142 (58%) of 243 MLAs face criminal charges of whom 70 (49%) have already been charge-sheeted. Arguably, with such legislators, how can we expect to remove crime from the country?
With power translating into a numbers game Parties field mafia dons as they convert their muscle power into votes at gun point with illicit funds and emerge victorious than candidates with a clean record. The arrangement works on a quid-pro-quo. Parties get unlimited funds to fight elections and criminals protection from law.
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. Besides, the returns on political investments are so high and profitable that criminals are disinclined to invest in anything else.
From criminalisation of politics to politicisation of crime, India has come full circle. Yesterday’s mafia dons are today Right Honourables a law unto themselves and all-powerful. Bringing things to such a pass that our jan sevaks dance to the tune of their underworld benefactors at the cost of the people, democratic ethos and good governance boxing democracy in the mafia box, cartridge box and ballot box!
Mafia dons have been elected from prisons, some MPs continue to hold durbars in jail with home comforts and rule their empire, issuing diktats that few dare disobey. Not a few take anticipatory bail to avoid arrest, others simply abscond only to “surrender” when ready, a la former Union Ministers Shibhu Soren and Jai Nishad.
On the obverse when good men like Manmohan Singh stand for elections they lose their deposits. Raising a moot point: Does the electorate really want an honest politician and a squeaky clean Government? True, an honest person can promise to fight the system and reform it, but voters prefer venal fixers who flex muscle, terrorise their constituents to keep them in check or provide protection, ration and Government jobs. For this, he gets votes.
Scandalously, criminal are crowding out honest candidates at the national and State level. According to a recent report 45.5% ‘criminal’ candidates win against 24.7% with a clean background. Thus, in this self perpetuating system the growing Indian middle class is not averse to electing criminals if they can become their patrons and deliver goods.
As a former Chief Minister argued when quizzed about having 22 Ministers in his Cabinet with criminal antecedents, “I don’t bother about the Ministers’ past. After joining the Government, they are not indulging in crimes and are ready to help suppress criminal activities. Ask the people why they have elected them.” How do you rebut this logic?
Consequently, the country is suffering from want of a “few good men” in politics as some rulers think and act for political gains and vote bank politics wasting taxpayers’ money by announcing outlandish schemes and subsidies whereby the country can go to hell. More. They change Parties at a drop of a hat to remain in power, lie without batting an eyelid, are shameless, defame others with false accusations and if caught apologise, indulge in theatrics to attract attention and manipulate to achieve their selfish interests and amass wealth.
One could have dismissed politico-criminalisation as a passing phase but the tragedy is that our democratic system has been usurped by criminals. Lamented a former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee “You do not deserve one paisa of public money…I hope all of you are defeated in the election.”
Bluntly, we have forsaked honesty and morality wherein crime is now politics which ensures victory. Be it a petty thug, dus numeriya or a mafia don. The only thing that matters is on whose side the criminal MP/MLA is. His or ours? They are all the same. Only the degrees differ. Akin to an angry man telling 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. In a milieu wherein our Parliamentary system has buried quality leaders and has now been hijacked by politico-criminals where mafia dons get away like escape artists, the aam aadmi is naturally cynical.
Most distressing it doesn’t strike any chord. With every election, the phenomenon of criminals- politicos no longer shocks, an accepted norm. Curse all, but when push comes to shove the majority willingly lumps it. Shrugged, as a price one pays for democracy. Simply, there aren’t any option. One Party’s candidate is a murderer, the next a rapist etc leaving one to choose the lesser evil and elect a robber!
What of the future? Will we continue to put a premium on criminality? Allow criminals to become netas? Basically, is it good for our democracy to have scoundrels represent voters? How many murder charges are required before one is considered unfit to represent people? Are there no honest and capable leaders? How do we get leaders to shift from “fixing” the system to reforming it?
Clearly, when those who are supposed to lead become saboteurs, it is time to call a spade a spade. We need to put correctives in place as no longer will legalistic response suffice. The answer lies in getting ethical, decisive, courageous, visionary, transparent leaders who can provide good governance for the common good.
Our polity needs to be courageous to end this. More voices must be raised against criminalisation of politics and ways found to reverse this malaise. Above all, we need politicians who are men of conscience, integrity and credibility. Not comrades in crime wherein today’s criminal king-makers might become tomorrow’s kings! —— INFA