India is one of the rare countries where special courts are in place to try criminal cases where legislators are accused. In the backdrop of a report that thousands of cases in which MPs and MLAs are involved, are pending in different courts across the country, the Supreme Court in December 2017 directed establishment of 12 fast track courts exclusively for such cases.
In states including Kerala, as early as last March such courts had come into being and become functional. However, when even after six months it transpired that there was no significant progress in disposal of cases, the apex court had to harden steps. That was how the Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra issued an order that each party should publish the name and details of their 'criminal representatives' in their official website and also the status of cases against such candidates.
The judgement, which listed the dangers of criminals becoming part of legislative houses, was ignored - as had happened previously - by our political parties. None of the mainstream parties was prepared to post on their website the details about 'criminal's whom they got elected to legislatures. Not only that, those accused in criminal cases continued to flock into the electoral battlefield in large numbers unchecked.
As per the report released last April by non-governmental organisation (NGO), Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), 1,580 MPs/MLAs stood accused in criminal cases in India. This will make up about a third of the total number of legislators in the country. They included cases on counts ranging from ones treated as relatively light, like violence during hartal, damaging public property and obstruction of passage, right upto grievous offences like murder, rape and abduction.
The latest figures in the ADR report tells us how criminal politics has gripped Indian democracy, as much as corruption has done. Take the case of India's parliament alone. Out of 521 Lok Sabha members, 106 face grave criminal charges in registered cases. Read with this also that of this, 58 are BJP members. Even otherwise, the exponents and practitioners of criminal politics are the Hinduva parties, as has been revealed in reports released by those including National Election Watch.
Of the criminal MP's, 55 per cent come from BJP and 17 per cent from Shiv Sena. In Congress and Trinamool, it is 7 per cent each, and in CPM it is only 1 per cent. The report also says that the number of cases registered in the fast track courts in Kerala is 240, of which only 3 are serious criminal cases. Compared to the period 2009-2014, the strength of criminal members has increased by 14 per cent; this gives a hint about where the trend is heading.
And that is exactly what is happening too. Despite the strict directive by Election Commission that particulars about candidates with criminal background should be advertised through the media, political parties have been treating them as a mere ritual and trying to continue fielding criminal candidates. The fact that in BJP's first list of 184 candidates 35 are accused, is a clear message that they are not prepared for any 'compromise' in the matter. And that included people who are charged in ten to fifteen cases. Nor can the other parties be said to have examined the criminal background of their candidates.
Why would it be that criminals become so sought-after in electoral battles? One of the many answers to this question is that, it is such 'criminal' candidates who have better chances of winning than the clean ones among them. The ADR report referred to above underlines this through hard statistics: the winning chance of criminal candidates against others is double. As a party, in BJD it is hundred per cent, and in BJP it is 70 There are only two parties in which ordinary men have a better prospect that criminals, i.e. Congress and AIADMK.
Add to these figures another fact: the cases in which people's representatives are accused, do drag on indefiniely. And the history is that after years of trial, these accused will get a clean chit. In spite of so large a number of cases being filed against legislators, only six per cent of the accused were punished. In other words, even if those with criminal background are fielded, there is a political situation with enough room to get them elected, plus the legal maneuvrability to drag the cases.
The way out of this problem is simply creating awareness against the criminalization of politics and making laws based on that foundation. But then, as long as the manifestoes of mainstream parties continue their deliberate silence on this issue, we look ill-fated to bear this burden.