Criminalisation of politics: causes, impacts and solutions – Explained, pointwise

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Recently, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) wrote to the Election Commission (ECI), seeking action against political parties that failed to publish details of criminal records of their candidates as per orders of the Supreme Court and the ECI. Activists and independent electoral watchdogs like ADR have been raising concerns over criminalisation of politics for a long time. The increasing trend of criminalisation of politics poses a significant threat to the democratic system. 

A little background of the petition 

In a petition filed by Public Interest Foundation, the Supreme Court in 2018, made it mandatory for political parties to widely publicize the details of criminal cases pending against their candidates. 

Subsequently, in February 2020, while hearing a contempt petition regarding its 2018 order not being implemented, the court repeated that the parties would have to publish the details of candidates with pending criminal cases. It also added that they would have to include the reasons for selecting such a candidate.  

However, an analysis of data by the ADR of Karnataka, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections shows that the number of candidates with criminal antecedents has only increased from previous elections. 

A petition filed by the ADR in 2022 in the Supreme Court sought contempt proceedings against various political leaders for not complying with earlier Supreme Court orders.  

The Supreme Court, earlier in 2023, dismissed the petition and asked ADR to pursue the remedies before the EC. This led ADR to write the letter to ECI.  

What is criminalisation of politics? 

 “Criminalisation of politics” refers to the entry of criminals and corrupt individuals into the political system. These individuals then exploit their positions of power and influence to prioritize their personal agendas over the welfare of the nation and its people. 

 Read more: What is the criminalisation of politics? 

What are the recent trends? 

Data by the ADR reveals that the number of candidates with criminal charges getting elected to Parliament has been on the rise since 2004. 

In 2004, around 24% of Members of Parliament (MPs) had pending criminal cases against them. By 2009, this percentage increased to 30%, followed by a further rise to 34% in 2014. In 2019, as many as 43% of MPs had criminal cases pending against them. 

According to a recent report published by ADR, in the recently held Karnataka elections, approximately 45 per cent of the candidates had criminal cases registered against them. Nearly 30 per cent of these candidates were accused of grave offences, including rape and murder. 

What are the causes of criminalisation of politics in India? 

Attraction of the strongmen: Due to the government’s failure to address the socio-economic and political concerns of the people, they are attracted towards people with a criminal image. These strongmen, who possess both power and wealth, are expected to fulfill the needs of the people.  

Vote bank politics: Money and muscle power of criminals help political parties gain votes. Since, in India electoral politics is more about caste, ethnicity, religion and several other factors, candidates overcome the reputational loss due to criminal charges and come out as victorious in elections. 

Black money in elections: Electoral politics is largely dependent on the money and the funding that it receives. Since candidates with criminal records often possess greater wealth, they ensure greater inflow in money, labour and other advantages that may help a party in successful campaign, and also possess greater ‘winnability’. Researech suggests that a candidate with a tainted reputation is three times more likely to win an election than a candidate with a clean record. 

Lack of Intra-party democracy: Political parties in India largely lack intra-party democracy and the decisions on candidature are largely taken by the elite leadership of the party. Thus, politicians with criminal records often escape the scrutiny by local workers and organisation of the party. 

Lack of adequate deterrence: Due to the low levels of convictions of MPs and MLAs, and delays in trials, political parties are not deterred from giving tickets to criminals. 

Loopholes in the functioning of Election Commission: The Election Commission has prescribed forms for the contestants of elections to disclose their property details, cases pending in courts, convictions etc. while filing their nomination papers. However, these steps have not been stringent enough to break the nexus between crime and politics. 

What are the impacts of criminalisation of politics in India? 

Undermines democracy: The foundation of a democracy is the trust between its citizens and those elected to govern on their behalf. When elected representatives have criminal backgrounds, it undermines this trust and erodes the credibility of the democratic system. 

Poor governance: Individuals with criminal backgrounds often lack the skills, education, and understanding necessary to govern effectively. Their policies and decisions may be guided by their own personal interests rather than the interests of their constituents. 

Cultivates culture of impunity: Criminalisation of politics can foster a culture of impunity where individuals believe they can commit crimes without facing consequences, which can lead to increased crime rates and a general lack of respect for the law. 

Encourages corruption: Politicians with criminal backgrounds are more likely to engage in corrupt practices, such as bribery, fraud, and embezzlement, further undermining the legitimacy of the government and public faith in it. 

Impact on economic development: The chronic corruption and mismanagement associated with criminal politicians can deter both domestic and foreign investors, stymie economic growth, and exacerbate poverty and inequality. 

Hampers social development: With corruption and self-interest driving policymaking, social development initiatives, such as health, education, and welfare programs, can be severely compromised, preventing the upliftment of disadvantaged groups. 

Taints international reputation: The criminalisation of politics can damage India’s reputation on the international stage, making it more difficult to engage in beneficial relationships with other countries and international organizations. 

What are the initiatives taken so far to overcome the issue of the criminalisation of politics in India? 

Constitutional initiative: Articles 84 and 173 deal with eligibility, whereas articles 102 and 191 deal with the disqualification of the House of Parliament and state legislative assemblies respectively. 

Legislative initiative: Indian Penal Code: Chapter IX A of Indian Penal Code deals with offences relating to elections. There are nine portions in it. For crimes like bribery, improper influence, and impersonation during elections, it defines them and lays forth the associated penalties. 

Representation of People Act (RPA), 1951: Section 8 of the Act lists certain offences which, if a person is convicted of any of them, disqualifies him from being elected, or continuing as, a Member of Parliament or Legislative Assembly. 

A candidate for any National or State Assembly elections is required to furnish an affidavit, in the shape of Form 26 appended to the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961. Failure to furnish this information, concealment of information or giving of false information is an offence under Section125A of the RPA.  

What are some of the landmark judgements on criminalisation of politics in India? 

In Union of India (UOI) v. Association for Democratic Reforms and Anr, 2002, the SC held that every candidate, contesting an election to the Parliament, State Legislatures or Municipal Corporation, must declare their criminal records, financial records and educational qualifications along with their nomination paper. 

In Ramesh Dalal vs. Union of India, 2005, the SC held that a sitting MP or MLA shall also be subject to disqualification from contesting elections if he is convicted and sentenced to not less than 2 years of imprisonment by a court of law. 

The SC in Public Interest Foundation vs Union of India case, 2018 had also directed political parties to publish online the pending criminal cases of their candidates. In this case, the court left the matter of disqualification of politicians carrying criminal charges against them to Parliament saying that the court cannot add to the grounds of disqualification. 

Order to establish Special Courts: Accordingly, the Union Government facilitated setting up of 12 Special Courts in States which had 65 and above pending cases, for expeditious trial of criminal cases involving MP/MLAs. Accordingly, 12 Special Courts (02 in NCT of Delhi and 01 each in the state of UP, Bihar, WB, MP, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala) were constituted. Performance of these special courts is being monitored by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India. 

What are the various recommendations on de-criminalization of politics? 

Read here: Important Recommendations 

What should be done? 

Legal reforms: The laws concerning the disqualification of candidates with criminal backgrounds need to be strengthened. For instance, 2nd ARC recommended amending section 8 of RPA to disqualify all persons facing charges related to grave and heinous offences and corruption, where charges have been framed six months before the election 

Time-bound justice delivery system: Fast tracking trials and expediting the judicial process through a time-bound justice delivery system will weed out the corrupt as well as criminal elements in the political system. 

Pressure on political parties: Pressure must be exerted on political parties to make them accountable for their choices. Political parties must realise that they must follow the rule of law and that they are not above the law.  

Strict enforcement of directives: The ECI needs to strictly enforce the directives of the Supreme Court. Parties that do not comply with these directives should face penalties, including fines, as suggested by the ADR. In extreme cases, non-compliant parties could be deregistered. 

Internal democracy in political parties: Encouraging internal democracy within political parties can also help. When party members have a say in candidate selection, they are more likely to choose individuals of integrity. 

Implementing recommendations of various committees: The recommendations of several committees, such as the Vohra Committee (1993) and Goswami Committee and law commission report (170 and 244 th), which have focused on tackling the criminalisation of politics, need to be fully implemented. 

Use of technology: Technology can be harnessed to ensure speedy trials and provide easy access to information about candidates. For instance, online platforms could be used to maintain a publicly accessible database of the criminal records of all political candidates. 

Sources: ADR, Indian Express (Article1, Article2),Department of Justice, Free Press Journal, SCO 

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