Criminalization of politics has become an enduring phenomenon in the Indian political system. According to a recent data, around 5000 criminal cases are pending against MPs/MLAs in various courts across the country. A latest survey conducted by Association for Democratic Reforms and the Election Watch indicates that 40% newly elected Rajya Sabha members have criminal cases against them. This is a wake-up call for Indian democracy as participation of criminals in politics leads to negation of all the democratic safeguards provided by our constitution; that is, the three organs which were supposed to keep a vigilant check on each other – legislature, executive and judiciaryare being weakened and its roots are corrupting. The politics in the nation has become a business yielding huge profits; rather than being a field of dedication and commitment towards ameliorating the welfare of the concerned subjects.
There are many reasons which have led us to the situation we are in. The unholy nexus between the politicians and bureaucracy, muscle power and corruption and poor governance are some of them. At the time of the election, political parties spend a huge sum of money buying the votes for illegitimate purposes. The lack of awareness amongst masses about the criminal records of these politicians and weak powers of the Election Commission in this regard are major hurdles.
The Section 8 of Representation of People’s Act, 1951 contains provisions for disqualification on the grounds of election offences, conviction for any offence resulting in the imprisonment for two or more years, failure to give account of election expenses within time, corruption or disloyalty, holding office under Government company, promoting enmity between different groups or offence of bribery and preaching or practicing of social crimes like untouchability, dowry, etc. Also, the Supreme Court in February 2020 ordered the political parties to publish criminal antecedents of their candidates for the Legislative Assembly & Lok Sabha elections. It is mandatory for all political parties to publish all details regarding pending criminal cases against their chosen candidates in local newspapers, on party websites, social media handles. However, a lack of political will and the very basic set-up of Indian society which makes it vulnerable to polarization towards caste and religion are the major impediments for a long-term change.
Setting up of fast track courts to deal with election offences can go a long way in cleaning Indian politics. Barring those from contesting elections who have been charged for heinous crimes and corrupt practices must be a priority for Indian polity now. Giving protection to the whistleblowers and witnesses during the course of investigation is of utmost importance. Also, setting up an independent agency to investigate electoral offences would resolve the issue to a great extent.
Participation of people with criminal charges in politics is against the very spirit of democracy. The law-breakers cannot be the law-makers of the largest democracy of the world. For the democratic principles to sustain and prove beneficial for the masses there is a pressing necessity for de-criminalisation of politics in the country.