India Today
New Delhi

A widely circulated joke on social media says that a candidate seeking a party ticket in Uttar Pradesh may face rejection if he does not have a criminal record or pots of unaccounted money.

Though made in jest, it underlines the harsh reality that one needs to have a combination of formidable money and muscle power to win elections in India's most populous state going to polls next month. And even the data paints a similar picture.

India Today's Data Intelligence Unit (DIU) analysed the trends of winners in the last three assembly elections in UP.

And numbers show that a tainted candidate is thrice more likely to win over someone with a clean record. Also, candidates with net assets over Rs 5 crore are at least six times more likely to succeed than someone with modest wealth.

In the 2007 elections, the winning ratio of tainted candidates was one out of five. For those without a criminal background, it was one out of 10. The winning percentage of candidates with criminal records dropped to 14 per cent in 2012 and increased marginally to 16 per cent five years later. However, while tainted candidates were three-and-a-half times more likely to win than clean candidates in 2012, it dropped to two-and-a-half times in 2017.

In the upcoming polls, the Election Commission has made it mandatory for political parties to declare why candidates with criminal backgrounds have been given a ticket to contest. But while the influence of muscle power has been reduced marginally, the sway of money power has been growing.

Data show that higher the net assets of candidates, greater are their chances of winning. In 2007, for instance, 10 per cent of the candidates with net assets less than Rs 1 crore won the elections. It was 29 per cent for candidates with net assets worth Rs 1-5 crore and 27 per cent for candidates with over Rs 5 crore of declared net assets.

The picture changed altogether 10 years later. In 2017, the winning percentage of candidates with net assets below Rs 1 crore dropped to less than 3 per cent. It was 20 per cent for candidates with net assets worth Rs 1-5 crore and 28 per cent for candidates with over Rs 5 crore of declared net assets.

"With the introduction of electoral bonds, the influence of money power in elections has gone up manifold," argues Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) co-founder Jagdeep S Chhokar. The retired IIM-Ahmedabad professor has been working for political reforms for nearly two decades now.

Another trend that has emerged over the years is the greater acceptability of experienced hands. UP's median age is one of the lowest in the country at 20.

However, the probability of winning candidates who are below 40 years is nearly one-fifth of those above 60 years. While almost one out of 10 young candidates (less than 40 years old) won the elections in 2007, the percentage dropped to just 3.6 in 2017.

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