Indian Express
Avinash Nair

The highest number of candidates with criminal backgrounds in the Gujarat polls are in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

Despite a Supreme Court directive on decriminalisation of the election process, there has been a spike in number of candidates facing criminal charges in Phase 1 of Gujarat Assembly elections, with 21 per cent of candidates declaring criminal cases against them in their affidavits.

Phase 1 of Gujarat elections is scheduled to be held on December 1.

While highest number of candidates with criminal backgrounds is in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), there has been a decrease in the number of such candidates in the BJP and the number has remained almost constant for Congress, states a report released by Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), Thursday.

While only 15 per cent of the candidates contesting in Phase 1 of 2017 assembly elections have declared criminal cases against themselves, the numbers have risen in 2022, with 21 per cent of the candidates in Phase 1 having criminal backgrounds. Of the total 88 AAP candidates in the fray, a total of 32 candidates are facing criminal charges.

Similar is the case with Congress party where 35 per cent of candidates have declared criminal cases against themselves in their affidavits.The grand old party is contesting all 89 seats in the first phase and the number of candidates with criminal cases fielded by it is 31, the report said.

Only 16 per cent of the candidates of the ruling BJP have criminal cases, which is an improvement from the 2017 polls when 25 per cent of their candidates contesting in Phase-1 had criminal backgrounds.

Among regional parties, 29 per cent of the candidates of Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) also have declared criminal cases. In 2017, this figure was at 67 per cent for BTP.

“The directions of the Supreme Court had no effect on the political parties in the selection of candidates in Phase-1 or Gujarat Assembly elections, as they have followed their old practice of giving tickets to 21 per cent candidates with criminal cases. All major parties contesting in Gujarat in the first phase have given tickets to 16-36 per cent candidates who have declared criminal cases against themselves,” said Major General (retd), Anil Verma, head, ADR.

“The SC in its directions on February 13, 2020, had specifically instructed political parties to give reasons for such selection and why other individuals without criminal antecedents could not be selected as candidates,” added Verma.

In Phase 1 of polls, there are nine candidates with declared cases related to crime against women, three candidates with murder cases and 12 candidates with attempt to murder.

The Supreme Court in September 2018 brought out a series of guidelines to deal with “criminalisation of politics”. It had suggested that candidates fill up forms provided by the Election Commission and state in bold letters the details of criminal cases faced by them.

The court had also said that candidates should inform the political party about the criminal cases faced by them and the same should be put up on party’s official website. The details of the cases should be published in newspapers and electronic media at least three times after nominations are filed.

The Election Commisison, in a letter dated March 6, 2020, issued formal directions for the same. “During the recent six assembly elections held in 2022, it was observed that political parties gave unfounded and baseless reasons like popularity of the person, does good social work, cases are politically motivated, etc. These are not sound and cogent reasons for fielding candidates with tainted backgrounds. This data clearly shows that political parties have no interest in reforming the electoral system and our democracy will continue to suffer at the hands of lawbreakers who become lawmakers,” Verma added.

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