The Times of India

MUMBAI: In what could come as a surprise to many, voters often overlook candidates' criminal records, NGOs from the city said. Despite statistics which NGOs present voters with prior to elections, they say that unless the crime is very grave, voters often vote for the candidate. That is what NGOs have found through surveys conducted over the past few years.

Recently, when the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) analyzed self-sworn affidavits of 2,336 candidates from Maharashtra contesting the assembly elections, they showed how out of 1,318 candidates fielded by five major political parties (BJP, Shiv Sena, MNS, Congress and NCP), 640 (49%) of them have criminal cases against them.

Sharad Kumar, state coordinator at ADR, said that by presenting these statistics they want the voter to make an informed choice. "But political parties often look through candidates with criminal records if they feel that he or she is a winning candidate. This leaves the voter with little choice. But many times, the educated voters give importance to criminal cases."

Shyama Kulkarni, a trustee of AGNI (Action for good Governance and Networking in India), said recently, when there was a 'Meet your candidates' session at St Andrew's Church courtyard in Bandra, she saw how the educational qualifications of candidates mattered to voters. "Voters were keen on the candidate who represented them being smart. In case of criminal records, unless it was something grave like money-laundering or molestation, voters did not consider it as an important factor while voting. A factor which mattered to voters was if the candidate was a builder, then they were unsure about him, as there were chances of him favoring the builders' lobby," said Kulkarni.

The Praja Foundation NGO, which also conducts its own surveys, recently released results of one which showed how 57% from the city perceived their MLAs to be extremely corrupt in 2014. They said that they observed that most voters believed that voting was their 'responsibility'. "Therefore, even if the candidate was a criminal but did social work like held blood donation camps or took people on a yatra to a religious place, there were chances of them voting for him," said Milind Mhaske, project director, Praja Foundation.

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