The Wall Street Journal
Preetika Rana

Why are Indian political parties not worried about fielding candidates who face criminal allegations?

Political parties of all hues have presented a higher number of such candidates at local elections in five Indian states than ever before, according to a report recently released by the Association for Democratic Reforms, a not-for-profit organization based in New Delhi.

Some suggest that alleged criminal candidates may be more likely to coerce voters into supporting them than other candidates.

Political parties, however, offer a different explanation. They claim these candidates are victims of a political witch hunt. They claim their candidates are innocent and that they have been framed by their political rivals. This, they argue, is why there are a slew of alleged criminals in party lists. In India, convicted criminals are not allowed to stand for elections.

How does this work, according to parties?

“Pose as an innocent victim, plot a fake case, cry your eyes out at a police station and charge your competitors with crime,” explains Rajendra Chaudhary, the spokesman of Uttar Pradesh’s regional Samajwadi Party. Mr. Chaudhury alleges that parties – but not the SP –deploy “pawns” or “schemers” to file cases against their opponents.

The Association for Democratic Reforms report estimates that 50% of the SP’s 401 candidates contesting U.P. state elections are facing criminal charges including murder, assault, abduction, rape and extortion. This hurts the image of a party that critics say already has a reputation for lawlessness.

But Mr. Chaudhury says that “all these cases are fake” and have been “viciously” filed by SP’s main regional rival, the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party.

According to the report, SP’s Mitra Sen leads the lot with 36 criminal cases, 14 of which are charges related to murder. But Mr. Chaudhury strongly defends his colleague.

“For years, Mitra ji has been fighting for the common man of India. He is devoted to the cause of justice and development….. Do you think he can ever do any of this?” Mr. Chaudhury asks. He alleges that the BSP is the “mastermind” behind Mr. Sen’s charges. Mr. Sen was not reachable for comment.

Unsurprisingly, the BSP vehemently denies SP’s allegations. “We have absolutely nothing to do with this,” said Baliram, a senior leader of BSP who only goes by one name. “There is no doubt that all candidates fielded by the SP are certified criminals,” he claims.

The Samajwadi Party alleges that the BSP, led by Ms. Mayawati, has framed charges against their candidates.

Mr. Baliram noted that U.P. Chief Minister Kumari Mayawati has “strictly ordered the party [BSP] to cancel tickets of those found guilty of corruption and criminality.” Over the past year, Ms. Mayawati has reportedly sacked 15 lawmakers who face charges including corruption.

Despite these claims, the figures aren’t encouraging. ADR’s report states that of 403 BSP candidates contesting U.P. elections, 131 (33%) are alleged criminals. BSP leader Indra Pratap leads with 31 pending cases, 10 of which are charges related to murder. A dozen others have been accused of abduction and robbery.

Mr. Baliram claims he has “no knowledge what so ever” of pending criminal cases against fellow party members.

While U.P.’s regional parties continue to take digs at one another, do mainstream political parties believe the candidates they filed who also face criminal allegations have been victimized? Predictably, they do.

“Unfortunately political vendetta is reality in Indian politics,” Manish Tewari, spokesman of the Indian National Congress told India Real Time. Of 354 Congress candidates contesting U.P. elections, 120 (34%) are defending criminal charges, ADR says.

Mr. Tewari, a lawyer by profession, says his fellow party members are innocent and argued that the “judiciary is often misused to harass political opponents.”

Nalin Kohli, spokesman of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party echoes Mr. Tiwari’s words. “Cases can be filed maliciously or incorrectly,” he says. Of 397 BJP candidates contesting U.P. elections, ADR’s report states that 144 (36%) are alleged criminals.

“An alleged criminal candidate may be the victim himself,” he adds.

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