Hindustan Times
New Delhi

An increasing number of candidates facing criminal charges are being fielded by India’s political parties at all levels of elections, including state polls, data from over a 10-year period shows. Underlining the seriousness of the issue, two new studies suggest stronger correlation between wealth, crime and winning ability.

Overall 17% of the candidates contesting the 2014 elections have a criminal background, up from 15% in 2009, when the previous general elections were held, according to data compiled from statistics put out by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a transparency group.

The last two phases of the nine-phase elections have 20% candidates each who have had a brush with the law. Since 2003, when disclosures for candidates became mandatory and publicly available on the election commission website, at least 7.9% candidates with a criminal case on an average have contested various polls.

Data from the two previous general elections combined by the ADR shows 18% of candidates had at least one criminal case against them, establishing the long-term character of criminality in India’s politics.

“The data — taken as a whole — gives a reasonable snapshot of the biographical profiles of India’s most influential lawmakers. And the picture isn’t pretty,” says Milan Vaishnav, associate, South Asia programme of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in a recent paper.

The ADR analysis revealed that a candidate with a criminal case had 23% chance of winning, compared to just 12% winning chance of one not facing any charges.

Vaishnav’s statistical analysis points to a more pernicious danger. His findings showed that the winning potential increases with the seriousness of charges against a candidate. For instance, those without a criminal case had 7% chance of winning, which went up to 19% if the candidate had at least one ordinary charge. For those facing a serious charge, such as murder, the winning chance shot up to a whopping 25%.

Evidence suggests voters do want to “penalise” shady candidates but this “negative effect” is offset by factors such as a candidate’s wealth, according to a paper by Bhaskar Dutta of the University of Warwick and Poonam Gupta of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi.

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