The Free Press Journal
New Delhi

The Association for Democratic Reforms, an election watchdog, says across the country, there are 1,460 serving lawmakers facing criminal charges.

The triumph of the fledgling and relatively clean Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi assembly elections had kindled hopes that major political parties would be ashamed and wary of selecting candidates with criminal records for the upcoming general elections, fearing the public wrath. That hope stands belied today, as various parties are vying with one another in putting up candidates in the upcoming general elections with scant reflection about their tainted record in much the same way as they did earlier.

Clearly, this has coincided with a sense of disillusionment having set in with AAP among large sections of people because of the gap between what it preaches and what it practises.

As the countdown for the general elections begins, the Congress Party is all set to announce electoral tickets for the Commonwealth Games scam-tainted Suresh Kalmadi, the Adarsh housing scam-tainted Ashok Chavan and the former Railways Minister Pawan Bansal, who was forced to quit over a Railways appointment scam.

The kingpin in the 2G scam, A Raja, a former communications minister, has been announced as a candidate for the Lok Sabha by the DMK in Tamil Nadu, and the BJP’s Uttar Pradesh unit has cleared four party leaders, who are suspects in the Muzaffarnagar riots. Their names await the final nod by the party’s central election committee. The BJP has also announced the candidature of its controversial Karnataka leader, B S Yeddyurappa, out of political expediency, brushing aside criticism that he is tainted. Many other parties are deeply enmeshed in the politics of criminality.

More than 150 MPs in the 543-seat outgoing Lok Sabha are said to be facing criminal charges. That money and muscle power rule the roost and go hand in hand is too well known to require reiteration.

The Association for Democratic Reforms, an election watchdog, says across the country, there are 1,460 serving lawmakers facing criminal charges.

The data is based on information provided by politicians to the Election Commission before submitting themselves to the electorate. Research suggests 15 MPs face at least one murder charge.

Significantly, the first list of 203 candidates declared by various political parties clearly shows that muscle power and criminality still rule the roost in Indian democracy.

Out of these, 70 candidates had contested assembly or parliamentary elections in the past and according to 2009 records, 34 had declared 224 criminal cases against themselves in their previous election affidavit.

The Shiv Sena of Maharashtra emerges at the top, with 12 of its 14 candidates having criminal cases, the BJP with 13 out of 32 candidates, the NCP with eight out of 13 and the AIADMK, with one out of six candidates, says the analysis done by Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch.

The Congress does not figure in the list, as it is yet to name its candidates.

This is only a preliminary list and the numbers of candidates charged with various crimes will swell, as more and more party lists come out. But one thing is clear—that the parties couldn’t care less about the people’s abhorrence of tainted candidates.

Sensitive to the widespread public revulsion at being ruled by lawmakers accused of serious crimes, the Supreme Court recently ruled that the trials of lawmakers accused of serious crimes must be completed within a year.

In its order on Monday, the SC bench said that criminal cases against lawmakers from the federal Parliament and state assemblies would be heard on “a day-to-day basis.”

If a trial court judge fails to conclude the case in a year from the time the charges are framed, he must explain the reasons to the chief justice of the high court, the SC said.

Last year, the Supreme Court had barred those lawmakers from elections who were found guilty of offences carrying a jail term of at least two years. Until last year’s landmark ruling by the Supreme Court, Indian politicians convicted of crimes could keep their jobs, while pursuing appeals which could go on for years.

But after the ruling, several politicians were disqualified from fighting elections, among them, the former Bihar chief minister, Lalu Prasad Yadav, who was convicted for embezzling state funds intended to buy cattle fodder.

How the vested interests in the Indian political establishment will come into play to sabotage the well-intentioned Supreme Court orders and whether they will succeed in doing so remains to be seen.

But the march of time will cast aside those who resist the silent public desire to see a cleaner system in place. With the decay that the Indian system has witnessed, there cannot be an indefinite period of a reformist agenda not succeeding. There is always light at the end of a tunnel.

In the Delhi assembly elections, the Aam Aadmi Party demonstrated how common people of very modest means were able to get the better of entrenched interests which had the backing of money and muscle.

But the party with a difference had raised public expectations to such unrealistic heights that the people started questioning their every move and of scrutinising every action.

The inexperience of Arvind Kejriwal and his core team and the trappings of power led to steps that tended to give the impression that the party was straying from its well-charted and transparently sincere path.

The dharna that Kejriwal undertook in full public view with his entire cabinet made his government look like a soap opera. Cabinet decisions being taken out in the streets made a mockery of governance.

Inevitably, a day came when the failure to get the Jan Lokpal Bill through led the AAP government to call it a day, leaving hopes for the future in smithereens and public expectations of better times shattered.

Whether the growing public revulsion towards dishonest means leads to a reversal of the politics of expediency, criminality and lack of good faith only time will tell. But what is apparent that the people are in no mood to let things be as they are. If AAP ceases to be the harbinger of hope, a new force will rise that will herald change. When that would happen is anybody’s guess.

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