It will require serious commitment from governments, Parliament, and the Supreme Court to implement decisions effectively.
The voter is king, the elected representative is a servant of the public. However, despite all electoral reforms and judicial decisions, politics has not been freed from criminalization. Political parties in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have shown no hesitation in fielding candidates with criminal backgrounds in the legislative Assembly elections. The real reason behind the criminalization of politics is that parties and their leaders used to seek support from powerful criminals and wealthy individuals for electoral success. Gradually, these strongmen and wealthy individuals themselves became attracted to power. Most parties started feeling compelled. The situation escalated to the extent that a highly controversial strongman was nominated for the Rajya Sabha by Narasimha Rao’s regime. Such leaders with a history of thuggery somehow find their way into the Rajya Sabha after being chosen by one party or another. You won’t find such a dire situation in any other democratic country in the world. Some African nations might have similar complaints, but the world wants to see India as an ideal. In this context, not only some parties and leaders, but even the use of EVM machines in every Lok Sabha or Assembly election has started raising doubts. If they are winning, the machines seem fine, but in case of defeat, allegations of machine tampering and manipulation arise. Even in the media, some experts or journalists express doubts. This is an extremely distressing situation because it leads not only the poor and less educated voters but also urban dwellers to perceive voting as unnecessary and incorrect. While the country’s renowned IT experts are providing technical validation, there should be regulations during the electoral reform campaign to curb such rumours. Moreover, any election can be challenged in court, as provisioned. For upholding faith in democracy, there should soon be unanimous agreement on extensive electoral reforms and the concept of “one nation, one election”.
In the Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly elections of 2023, out of a total of 2,534 candidates, criminal cases have been filed against 472 (19%) candidates. Among these candidates, 291 (11%) mentioned criminal cases against themselves in their nomination affidavits. Within the Congress party’s 230 candidates, 121 (53%) mentioned criminal cases in their affidavits, and 61 (27%) acknowledged serious criminal cases. Among the BJP’s 230 candidates, 65 (or 28%) have accepted criminal cases against themselves, while 23 (10%) have declared serious criminal cases. Among the 66 candidates from the Aam Aadmi Party, 26 (39%) have declared criminal cases against themselves, with 18 (27 percent) specifying serious criminal cases in their affidavits. Out of 181 candidates from the BSP, 16 (9%) have declared criminal records, while 16 (9%) have serious criminal cases registered against them. Some have even provided information related to cases under Section 376, pertaining to rape. Additionally, 10 candidates have declared cases related to murder (IPC Section 302) in their affidavits, and 17 candidates have declared cases related to attempted murder (IPC Section 307).
In the second phase of the Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly elections, out of 953 candidates, 100 have declared criminal cases against themselves. Among these, 56 candidates are facing serious criminal charges, including allegations of intentional injury, threats, and cheating. Out of the analyzed 953 candidates, 100 (approximately 10 percent) have declared criminal cases against themselves. Among the major parties contesting in the state, 13 candidates from Congress, 12 from BJP, 11 from Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (J), and 12 from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) have declared criminal cases against themselves in their affidavits. As per the report, out of 70 candidates from the ruling Congress, seven (10 percent) have declared serious criminal cases against themselves, while among the opposition BJP’s 70 candidates, four (6%) have done so, along with four (6%) from JCC (J) out of 62 candidates, and six (14%) from AAP out of 44 candidates. In the first phase of elections, out of 223 candidates, 26 had declared criminal cases against themselves, with 16 facing serious criminal charges.
Even in the Lok Sabha, the number of MPs with criminal records is not insignificant. That’s why the Supreme Court had directed parties in its verdict to clarify why tainted candidates were being fielded. Despite ongoing debates and court directives, the count of MPs with criminal records in the Lok Sabha has been increasing over the years. In 2004, the percentage of tainted representatives was 24%, which rose to 30% in 2009, 34% in 2014, and after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it reached 43%. The Supreme Court’s Constitution Bench had directed in a September 2018 judgment that candidates with criminal records should proactively publicize their criminal history to the public for better transparency. Political parties often cite the legal principle that an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty in court when they field candidates facing criminal allegations in elections. This argument is presented even in cases where the candidate is accused of serious crimes. However, when there is substantial evidence and chargesheets in various serious cases, leaders and parties should feel a sense of shame. The Election Commission had long ago recommended during Congress rule that there should be a law preventing candidates from contesting after being charge-sheeted, but such recommendations have remained pending before governments and parliamentary committees.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also urged for provisions and decisions by separate courts for considering cases involving Members of Parliament and Ministers. However, there is a shortage of sufficient judges in the courts. In reality, it requires serious commitment from the government, Parliament, and the Supreme Court to implement decisions effectively.
The writer is editorial director of ITV Network—India News and Dainik Aaj Samaj.