The world’s largest elections offer an opportunity to those under criminal investigations, allowing many accused of offences as serious as murder and rape to become lawmakers.
Indian democracy, the largest in the world, has long been tainted with the presence of criminals in parliament. The election in 2019 is going to be no different.
As the marathon election draws to an end on Thursday, a disturbing reality is setting in: many members of the parliament at the central and state level face criminal charges ranging from rape to murder.
After the last election in 2014, a third, or 34 percent, of the 543 MPs elected to parliament were accused of different bone-chilling crimes.
In this election one in five candidates faces a criminal case, a figure higher than the previous year. How many thugs have actually ended up in the parliament will be known once the results are officially announced.
The figures are based on the report of Association for Democratic Reforms, an Indian NGO that works on electoral transparency.
The increase in the criminalisation of Indian politics coincides with the rise of violent Hindu nationalism that Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has promoted since coming to power in 2014.
There is no dearth of accounts and reports pointing to attacks on India’s minorities, especially Muslims.
As per the law, a candidate convicted of a serious crime and sentenced to two years of jail time, cannot stand in the elections. But the overburdened Indian courts take years to pronounce judgements, allowing the accused to join the electoral race and even win.
Such criminals can be found across party lines. According to estimates, some 40 percent of BJP’s candidates are facing criminal charges.
The main opposition Congress is a little behind with 39 percent of its candidates facing criminal charges.
In recent weeks, police have seized cash and liquor worth hundreds of millions of dollars, which politicians were using to bribe voters.
Political parties rely on both money and muscle power to secure votes.
The BJP’s K Surendran is facing 240 cases, the highest for any candidate, according to Reuters. He is in third place in the preliminary results coming from Kerala state’s Pathanamthitta constituency.
Pragya Singh Thakur, another BJP candidate, recently made her debut in politics. She was declared the winner of the Bhopal parliamentary constituency, despite facing accusations of her involvement in a series of bombings in 2008 that left six people dead.
While the majority of the voters are not in favour of voting for candidates with criminal backgrounds, some are bound by caste and religious beliefs.
One reason candidates with criminal records keep getting a chance to run for parliamentary seats is that they self-finance their campaigns, sparing their parties the large expense.
Often even well-informed people vote for these criminals. That could be due to the Robin Hood factor – where these strongmen fill a vacuum left by the absence of the state and help locals with services such as security.
Last September, the Supreme Court of India even asked parliament to clean its house by adopting a law that would block the entry of people facing serious charges.
There’s no law in India to make political parties drop tainted candidates.
A criminal is twice as likely to win elections than someone with a clean history, according to a survey of 542 of the 543 winners of the 2014 parliamentary elections.
Even the popular Indian film industry has shown criminals becoming politicians and fighting the system.
Only six percent of criminal cases against central and state legislators end up with a conviction.
According to Milan Vaishnav’s 2017 book "When Crime Pays," it was the Congress party which first made use of thugs in the 1950s and 1960s to control the streets. But soon the hired hands turned to politics to avoid prosecution and enjoy the perks of government office.