The nexus between crime and politics has long been discussed, and there have been periodical statements about the number of MPs and MLAs with a criminal record in parliament and state assemblies.

The number of people’s representatives on the wrong side of the law has steadily increased in the law-making bodies, and it is not a great thought that they are the ones who make the laws and are expected to hold law-enforcing agencies accountable.

According to a report prepared by the Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch, 233 of the 539 newly elected MPs have serious criminal charges against them. This is based on the affidavits filed by the candidates themselves. This means that about 45% of the MPs have been involved in criminal cases.

About 30% of them face very serious charges, like those related to rape and other crimes against women, murder, kidnapping, etc., and one candidate is facing trial for terrorist acts. There are also 10 MPs who have actually been convicted by courts. 

In 2009, the percentage of MPs with criminal cases against them was 162 (30%) and in 2014 it was 185 (34%). The rising percentage might mean that in future the majority of our MPs will be people facing criminal charges. In the general population, not even 5% of the people might be facing such charges.

That shows that either criminal is attracted to politics and make a mark there or that politicians resort to criminal activities to a much greater extent than ordinary people. Both inferences may be correct. The result is criminalisation of politics and governance and vitiation of the processes of democracy.

Democracy is undermined and its institutions are rendered ineffective when criminals control them. The ready excuse of politicians that they cannot be considered criminals unless they are convicted by courts is acceptable only in a strictly technical sense. It is well-known that cases go on for years and decades and most often politicians are able to extricate themselves from them in various ways and means.

The first responsibility to keep criminals away from elections is of the political parties. But no-one expects them to do that because they are also controlled or influenced by criminals. Criminals may even be preferred as candidates because they have better chances of winning elections, as they may have more money and muscle power and would know how to win elections.

The report said that the chance of candidates with criminal records winning the 2019 Lok Sabha election was 15.5% while the winning chance of those with a clean background was only 4.7%. That shows that the failure is not just of the parties but of the people, too. 

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