Essentially, “Criminalization of Politics” refers to those acts carried out by persons with Legislative, Judicial or Executive Authority, (as opposed to the belief that it is limited to political authority) which undermine the constitutional fundamentals of India. In India, these fundamentals are governed by the basic spirit of governance, which is Democracy. The modern definition of Criminalization in politics tends to incorporate more than just the criminalization in “Politics” (in the purer sense of the term) and extends the scope of the term to forms of criminalization in Electoral Politics, Policy-making Politics, Judiciary, Executive and even the Administration. This is so because the modern day definition of Politics imbibes in itself the concept of “Governance” which is holistic.
Today, Criminalization of Politics seeps through the various strata of Indian governance right from the lowest-rung peon charging a petty bribe to get a job done, to the top-rung IAS Officer or MP/MLA indulging in some form of perverted activity undermining the ideal scenario of governance.
Ideally, one would opt to define “Criminalization” before defining “Politics”, but in the context of this subject-study, it is more important to define “Politics” since the scope of “Politics” plays a crucial role in setting the parameters of “Criminalization”. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “Politics” is defined as “the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy”. Hence, it only makes logical sense to broaden the scope of Criminalization of politics to the extent that all the facets of governance can be covered.
While exploring the subject of “Criminalization in Politics”, be it with regard to any country, what must be kept in mind is that in quintessence, the term “criminalization” is that it is a perverted form of a process and encompasses but is not limited to the term “crime”. The conventional definition of the term includes the persons involved are the high-ranking government officials.
KINDS OF “CRIMINALIZATION IN POLITICS”
This section is an attempt at bringing forth the existing facets and forms in which the criminalization of politics exists in the Indian Governance.
Electoral Fraud refers to such acts which disrupt a process of fair elections illegally. However, acts which disrupt fair elections but are not illegal may also be referred to as electoral fraud, on moral grounds.
POLITICAL CANDIDATES WITH CRIMINAL RECORDS/PENDING CHARGES
The criminalization of our political system has been observed almost unanimously by all recent committees on politics and electoral reform. Criminalization of politics has many forms, but perhaps the most alarming among them is the significant number of elected representatives with criminal charges pending against them. Approximately 38% of the persons contesting electoral polls have a criminal record.
MUSCLE POWER USED TO GATHER VOTES
A common happening in the electoral politics of today is musclemen using the fear psychosis to gather votes. They fear the weak and poor to vote for a specific candidate or manipulate the vote-banks. At various instances, musclemen have been used to scare away competing candidates (and their means may extend to inflicting damage and even causing death at times).
It is widely believed that the cost of fighting elections has climbed far above the legal spending limits. This has resulted in lack of transparency, widespread corruption, and the pervasiveness of so-called ‘black money’.
Scams in the (purely) political arena have skyrocketed in the past 5 years. From upscale scams such as the 2G scam or the Commonwealth Scam to financial irregularities by municipal corporations which are alleged to have taken place in projects such as slum rehabilitation, marking of flood lines, granting of transferable development rights, city centre project, change in land reservations, housing schemes, massive cost escalation in major projects and change in rules for bus rapid transit system, Political scams have increased by leaps and bounds, thus contributing further to the Criminalization of Politics in India.
The nexus between bureaucracy and politics has been explained in the preceding portion of this chapter. Many times, large-scale scams (for eg: 2G, CWG, etc.) have bureaucratic officials involved in them. Or it so happens that bureaucratic officials and their actions end up affecting the political scenario of a country, and when such actions are corrupt, it leads to criminalization of politics.
CRIMINAL GANGS ENJOYING PATRONAGE OF POLITICIANS
In Chapter 4 of the report of the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution, cites the Vohra report as follows: “The nexus between the criminal gangs, police, bureaucracy, and politicians have come out clearly in various parts of the country” and that “some political leaders become the leaders of these gangs/armed senas and over the years get themselves elected to local bodies, State assemblies, and national parliament.”
REASONS FOR THE CRIMINALIZATION
A politician’s link with them constituency provides a congenial climate to political crime. Those who do not know why they ought to vote to comprise the majority of voters of this country. Therefore the majority of the voters are maneuverable, purchasable. Most of them are individually timid and collectively coward they are suppressed by the politicians easily.
This practice is very common in the Indian politics as in every election all parties without exception put up candidates with a criminal background. The greatest power that democracy arms are the people to vote incompetent people out of power. Independence has taken place through a two-stage process. The first stage was the corrupting of the institutions and the second stage was the institutionalization of corruption. The failure to deal with corruption has bred contempt for the law. When there is contempt for the law and this is combined with the criminalization of politics, corruption flourishes. India is ranked 66 out of 85 in the Corruption Perception Index 1998 by the German non-government organization Transparency International based in Berlin.
DENIAL OF JUSTICE AND RULE OF LAW
Criminalization is a fact of Indian electoral politics today. The voters, political parties and the law and order machinery of the state are all equally responsible for this. There is very little faith in India in the efficacy of the democratic process in actually delivering good governance.
Under current law, only people who have been convicted at least on two counts be debarred from becoming candidates. This leaves the field open for charge sheeted criminals, many of whom are habitual offenders or history-sheeters. It is mystifying indeed why a person should be convicted on two counts to be disqualified from fighting elections.
REMEDIES AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The criminalization of our political system has been observed almost unanimously by all recent committees on politics and electoral reform. Criminalization of politics has many forms; the most alarming among them is the significant number of elected representatives with criminal charges pending against them. While the massive size of the electorate makes holding elections a daunting task, involves the presence of issues such as booth capturing, intimidation of voters, tampered electoral rolls, large-scale rigging of elections and other polling irregularities; the proliferation of non-serious candidates; and the abuse of religion and caste in the mobilization of voters.
The Vohra Committee on “Criminalization of Politics” was constituted towards the objective of identifying the extent of the political-criminal nexus and recommend ways in which the menace can be effectively dealt with. This report contained several observations made by official agencies on the criminal network which was virtually running a parallel government. It also discussed criminal gangs who enjoyed the patronage of politicians, of all parties, and the protection of government functionaries. It revealed that political leaders had become the leaders of gangs. They were connected to the military. Over the years criminals had been elected to local bodies, State Assemblies, and Parliament. In 1997, the Supreme Court recommended the appointment of a high-level committee to ensure an in-depth investigation into the findings of the N N Vohra Committee and to secure prosecution of those involved.
In its report on Proposed Election Reforms, 2004, the Election Commission of India recommended that an amendment should be made to Section 125A of the R.P. Act, 1951 to provide for more stringent punishment for concealing or providing wrong information on Form 26 of Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 to minimum two years imprisonment and removing the alternative punishment of assessing a fine upon the candidate. It also recommended that Form 26 be amended to include all items from the additional affidavit prescribed by the Election Commission, add a column requiring candidates to disclose their annual declared income for tax purpose as well as their profession. Essentially an amendment must be made to the R.P. Act, 1951, by inserting a new section 4A after section 4 to make a declaration of assets and criminal cases pending against the candidate part of the qualifications necessary for membership to the House of the People.
The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution recommended that special election benches designated for election petitions only should be formed in the High Court. The Election Commission has also made a similar recommendation. The Second Administrative Reforms Commission, in its report “Ethics in Governance”, recommended in detail that: “Special Election Tribunals should be constituted at the regional level under article 329B of the Constitution to ensure speedy disposal of election petitions and disputes within a stipulated period of six months. Each tribunal should comprise a High Court judge and a senior civil servant with at least 5 years experience in the conduct of elections.”
Section 8 (1) Of the R.P. Act, lists certain crimes and stipulates a disqualification period of 6 years from the date of conviction. In order to deter politicians with a criminal background and that too with regards to committing heinous crimes, the R.P. Act must be expanded in its scope. In case a candidate has charges framed against him with regards to offenses listed in S.8 (1) and otherwise, he should be disqualified for a period of six years.
The Law Commission of India as well as the Election Commission of India has time and again reiterated the institution of the neutral or negative voting system. This system entails that the voter has the choice to reject the candidates on the ballot by the selection of “none of the above”. With the institution of such a system, there could be a democratic safeguard and the proportional share of negative or neutral votes polled could, if sufficient, render the current election to be null and void and re-election would consequently be taken up.
Reform is a continuous process. The accomplishment of the modification would depend upon the operational compliance of the coordination of electoral machinery, the political parties, the candidates and electorate at all levels. Over the years, the Election Commission has handled a number of issues and accomplished commendable electoral reforms to fortify democracy and augment the even-handedness of elections.
Criminalization of politics needs a multi-pronged approach in order to be tackled. Mere institutional implementations have never succeeded in the elimination of any evil. What we must observe is that criminalization of politics is a deep-seated problem and has permeated the very core of how Indian politics functions.
The citizens themselves should be empowered by Law and shall act upon the undue intimidation by the “thug-culture” per se. Positive political power needs to be exercised so as to imbibe within the voting gamut of the population, the power to influence events, resources and human behavior to promote overall public good. In India, this positive power is severely restricted because of the way we designed our governance structure.
Arming the Election Commission of India (ECI), which has been always identified as a power-less institution, with effective over-riding powers with regards to the conduct of free and fair elections and other allied affairs is the need of the hour. The prime thrust of running a democracy lies upon its citizens and not any other entity. With large portions of the present electorate being illiterate, it is indeed a challenging task imbibing a sense of political fore-thought in them. However, citizens can only face grave injustice and criminal elements of their representatives to an extent.
Elections are in essence mere “gutter-fights”, the quintessential example of the traditional and cruel game of “fight-to-death”. The Election Commission has remained as a passive spectator through all this. Elections for a sizable part of the voters seems to be a meaningless farce. Reforms have assisted in cleansing the system to a highly limited extent, however, the scenario stays largely unchanged. Change, radical and extreme change is the need of the hour.
– Medha P M
(Alliance Law School, Bangalore)
- Kuldeep Nayar, “the Vohra Report-Sparing the Culprits” Indian Express, August 7, 1995
- Vohra Committee Report
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