Governing political parties

Civil society has been demanding clean, honest and capable candidates from political parties for a long time. The recent elections in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh in October 2009 and the events in the aftermath show how important it is to address the issues of increasing crime and money in Indian politics. This can be done only if political parties are pressed to accept these long-pending demands.

Whether it was the impounding of 494 scooters in Arunachal Pradesh by Election Commission that were distributed as bribes to voters by contesting candidates, or the ruckus created in th— Maharashtra assembly in the very first session by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) MLAs against the use of Hindi by a Samajwadi Party MLA, or the ‘unconditional merging’ of five of the six MLAs of Haryana Janhit Congress (a party that contested elections on the sole plank of anti-Congress issues) with the Congress Party—politicians have continued to function in completely unaccountable fashion.

This raises the question of  why our political system attracts and promotes such people. The answer might lie in the process of ticket distribution. Voters have no say in the candidates that they are asked to vote on. The distribution of tickets is highly undemocratic and rests on the top leadership of each party. Even local party workers have absolutely no say in the process. The only thing that matters, other than loyalty, is ‘winnability’, regardless of the dubiousness of the background.

MLAs with criminal backgrounds

In recent years, every major party, including the Congress and the BJP, has been publicly announcing that it will not give tickets to candidates with criminal backgrounds. The facts based on the affidavits of the candidates analysed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) however tell a different story.

A total of 4944 candidates—most of them on tickets of political parties—contested for 438 seats in the states of Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh and Haryana. Out of these, 900 candidates declared that they have criminal cases—including serious crimes like robbery, murder, and kidnapping—pending against them. Among these, 161 candidates won.

In Maharashtra 143 new MLAs have criminal cases pending against them. There are 15MLA Criminal Records, India cases related to murder, 11 cases of dacoity, two of robbery, five of extortion, six related to kidnapping and several others pending against the newly elected MLAs spanning all major parties. The breakup of pending criminal records against the new MLAs for each state is as shown in the graphic.

When compared to the outgoing assemblies, the new assemblies show mixed progress on addressing criminality in politics. In Haryana, the number of candidates with pending criminal records has come down; in Arunachal Pradesh, it has remained the same; while in Maharashtra it has risen by 4 percent.

Increasing money power in elections

Money power also played an equally important role in the recent elections. A look at the asset declarWealthy MLAs in Indiaations of the MLAs in the three assemblies shows that it is the rich who get elected. In a democracy everyone is supposed to have an equal stake in participation at all levels—be it voting, canvassing or contesting elections. However, the parties tend to give tickets only to candidates with ample cash to finance the expensive campaigning. The attached graphic shows how the percentage of crorepatis has increased in the newly constituted assemblies.

An analysis that compares the assets of the MLAs in the outgoing assembly with what they had declared at the time of becoming MLAs, shows that their assets increased substantially. Haryana MLAs’ assets increased by Rs 4.5 crores (231 percent), Arunachal MLAs’ by Rs 5.3 crores (414 percent) and Maharashtra MLAs’ by more than Rs 3.4 crores (256 percent). The reasons for this astounding increase merit further investigation.

After the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, T S Krishnamurthy, the then chief election commissioner, sent the copies of all affidavits filed by contestants to the income tax department, for cross-checking and verifying tax compliance. But, to this day, the income tax department is yet to reply to that letter.

The way forward

What is the best way to bring better people in politics? Civil society has been trying to shame politicians by publishing reports on criminal backgrounds and accumulation of assets while in power. In several countries, parties distance themselves from the scandalous politicians as soon as they are disgraced: India’s parties, however, do not seem to care. A comprehensive revamp of the laws governing political parties—so as to make them accountable to party members and the public—is in order. Both the 170th report of Law Commission on Electoral Reforms and the National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution have suggested this. Unfortunately, both these reports have been in cold storage since their publication. Findings from the October 2009 elections further support the need to bring them out and into the public discourse.