The Economic Times
New Delhi

This article has been largely devoted to a list of 'unusual' candidates in this year's elections. What about a list of 'usual' candidates? That would be made of some colourful characters, who face charges of unsavoury acts. Candidates facing criminal charges have increasingly become par for the course in elections.

In the current Lok Sabha, 162 MPs, or a third of their total number, faced criminal cases, according to an analysis by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), an organization that pursues electoral and political reforms. To be fair, some charges relate to flouting Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which bars unlawful assembly of people.

Krishna Ananth, a professor of history at the Sikkim University, says only 'armchair politicians' can ever hope to escape charges of violation of Section 144. That said, 76 MPs, or 14%, had serious charges such as murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping and robbery.

This election will turn out to be no different as the first list of candidates shows (see Criminal Candidates). Kameshwar Baitha, who won from Palamau in Jharkhand on a JMM ticket in 2009, has 69 counts of serious charges against himself.

He switched sides to the BJP after the JMM denied him ticket. But that party chose, in a case of dramatic irony, former director general of police VD Ram as its candidate. Baitha is in no mood to relent. He has since joined the Trinamool Congress.

DMK's A Raja, the main accused in the 2G spectrum scam, will again contest from the Nilgiris. Despite Manish Tiwari's attempts to contest from the Chandigarh seat, former railway minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, whose nephew faces bribery charges, will seek reelection from that constituency.

It is not hard to see why parties cannot do without tainted candidates. They win. ADR research reveals that 24 MPs with criminal cases were reelected in 2009. The first list of candidates in this elections shows that 30% of MPs who are seeking reelection face criminal cases. Of this, 12% face serious charges.

In this era of coalition politics, the prospect of a win trumps arguments of ethics. Ananth says candidates with criminal antecedents are a reflection of the present electoral system. "There is a lot of muscle power and money at play. We haven't caught onto a clean electoral system." The average assets of MPs seeking reelection are worth Rs 7.22 crore. Many of these MPs were elected from states such as Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and Maharashtra.

Feudal remnants of our society remain in many parts of India, according to Ananth. On July 10, 2013, theSupreme Court barred MPs and MLAs from continuing in office if they are convicted. But cases are long drawn out despite another Supreme Court ruling on March 10, 2014 that criminal cases against MPs and MLAs should be completed within a year from the date of framing of charges.

There is only so much the judiciary can do. But voters can dissuade political parties from giving tickets to candidates with serious criminal cases. They must vote only for clean candidates or at least the 'less dirty' ones.

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