Related to: 
Published in: 
On: 
Friday, March 5, 2004

dir="ltr">With the political temperature rising in the country, the recent DP Yadav episode once again focused attention on criminalization of politics.  Why do parties admit and nominate criminals as candidates? Clearly, they perceive that the winning chances are enhanced by nominating them. The parties have not taken a vow to destroy India. They are only prepared to do whatever it takes to win the elections and once victorious, to retain power. But if public opinion is clearly against unsavoury candidates, parties will be forced to refrain from projecting politicians with criminal links. That is the clear message from the DP Yadav episode. BJP felt that his induction would benefit the party in a few constituencies in Western UP; but once it realized that the public ire might cost it more votes across the country, he was jettisoned. But we cannot always rely on alert media and public opinion to check criminalization. Not every such politician and his offspring may be involved in nationally-known crimes (for instance, Vikas Yadav, the son of DP Yadav is an accused in Nitish Kataria and Jessica Lal murder cases and is widely believed to have been shielded by his influential father). In order to purge criminals from our public life, we need to dig deeper and go to the root causes of criminalization. In order to understand the reasons for the growing criminalization of politics, we need to answer three questions.

First, why are criminals thriving? There is a growing market demand for criminals in society. The justice system has become moribund and ineffective, no longer capable of resolving disputes or punishing criminals in a credible and speedy manner. With 25 million cases pending in courts, many of them for years and decades, most people have no faith in due process of law. More than the pendency of cases, the 'missing cases' which never reach courts for want of faith in judicial process are increasing alarmingly. Most people swallow injustice, and suffer in silence. There is no reasonable chance of reparation  for violation of rights or speedy and fair resolution of disputes. Therefore, going to courts makes no sense except in extreme cases, or when a litigant is rich or is actually seeking to delay a case. Such a climate breeds a class of criminal 'entrepreneurs' who are willing to provide rough and ready justice through real or implied use of force. The 'bhai log'  or mafias or criminal gangs thrive primarily by settlements of disputes.  They have become the undeclared, but effective informal courts of law, with the capacity to enforce their ‘diktats’ by brutal methods. If you examine the antecedents of many criminals in politics, they started their careers as dispensers of rough justice, and flourish by 'settlement' of disputes for a price. Sadly, more criminal cases are pending in our courts, and for longer periods than civil cases. Nearly 18 million criminal cases are pending in India, which is about thrice the number of civil cases. Of these, nearly 5 million cases are pending over 10 years! Clearly, mafias and organized crime syndicates have no real fear of law. Therefore, the criminal gangs operate with impunity.

Second, what motivates such ‘successful’ criminal entrepreneurs to enter politics? An incident recounted by a police official will answer the question. Some years ago, the leader of a criminal gang known for many murders began taking active interest in the affairs of the ruling party in a state at the local level. The then Home Minister who came to know of it asked the police official to introduce the criminal to him. A few days later, the minister and the official were participating in a public function in organizing which the criminal was prominent. The police official brusquely summoned the criminal and introduced him to the minister. The minister then put his arms around the criminal in a show of affection, and greeted him effusively! It is this protection which attracts criminals into politics. Once a criminal becomes a politician, the police, whose job it is to keep him under check and investigate his crimes, become his protectors. In India, traditionally crime investigation is under political supervision. This control is of two kinds: the political bosses determine transfers and postings of officials who are entrusted with all police functions – crime investigation, law and order, traffic control, VIP security etc; the government has the power to withdraw prosecution. Given this situation, it makes eminent sense for a criminal to become a politician in order to escape the clutches of law; indeed, to control the crime investigation process to his advantage.

Third, why do parties invite criminals to be their candidates? In a constituency-based first-past-the-post (FPTP) system of election, the local caste clout, and ability to bribe or browbeat voters, and resort to polling irregularities like bogus voting enhances chances of victory. Though many criminal gangs are initially ‘secular’, they soon split on caste or communal lines. They clearly take advantage of social cleavages and position  themselves as protectors of their caste or community, thus provoking primordial loyalties. That is why many criminals enjoy fierce local support. With such caste clout, musclemen at their disposal, and money accumulated through crime, they have natural advantages in a local election. In our FPTP system, what matters is to garner more constituency vote than any of the rivals. The losing candidate's votes do not count. Therefore, in our culture, there is fierce competition for the marginal vote that a candidate can bring, which often is the difference between victory and defeat. And the local electoral malpractices have little impact on a whole state or country. That is why politicians choose 'popular' criminals masquerading as caste or faction leaders as candidates. That is why sometimes mafia dons in jail win elections with ease.

If we are serious about decriminalization of politics, all these three problems need to be addressed. Justice must be made accessible, speedy and affordable; crime investigation must be insulated from the vagaries of partisan politics, and made accountable; and we must move towards better electoral systems like proportional representation with effective safeguards to ensure democratic choice of candidates and prevent fragmentation on caste lines. Public opinion needs to be mobilized on all these fronts. Opposition to individual politicians with criminal antecedents is necessary; but only deeper systemic reform can address the real crisis.