The lucrative business of politics in India

Crime really pays well, wins elections too.

By Rajiv Theodore

NEW DELHI: In India, the news may not come as a surprise to many: that you have to be rich to be a successful politician. Or you could enhance your wealth a whopping 1000 fold from the time you join the ruling caucus till its mandatory five year term ends. Two events did the rounds very recently to endorse the fact that the heady mix of crime, money and politics is here to stay in the Indian political canvas.

Narwana, an obscure village in Jind district of Haryana, was recently in the news. At a seminar there, Congress MP Birender Singh said Rs. 100 crore is all you need to become an MP in the Rajya Sabha. He quoted a known person who bargained and got the seat for Rs. 20 crore less. Birender Singh said not one but he knew 20 such cases where money pitch-forked lawmakers to the top in Indian politics.

The second event, which surfaced almost at the same time, was more academic in nature.  The analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW), both of them NGOs has thrown up startling facts about the murky world of politicians, politics and money.

Their revelations can be summed up as being criminal is the passport to becoming a politician. Candidates with a criminal past have much brighter chances to win elections than those without criminal records. In other words being a criminal is a pre-condition for success in the political arena. Candidates with a clean record lag behind in the electoral race.

According to the study, there is only a 12 per cent chance of winning for a ‘clean’ candidate as compared to 23 per cent possibility for a ‘criminal’ candidate to bag a seat. About 74 per cent candidates with a criminal background got tickets for a second time, the study points out.

And watch it, being a criminal is seen as a special trait or talent if you would choose to call it as it is the preferred choice for political parties too. The study – which spanned a time line from 2004 to 2013 and cut across all political and party lines – has also revealed that the average assets of MPs and MLAs with serious criminal cases were worth Rs.4.38 crore.

“(The) nexus between crime and money has been exposed… If the electoral process is governed by crime and money what moral rights do we have to call ourselves a democracy,” Professor Jagdeep Chokkar, founder member of ADR and NEW, says.

The NGOs analyzed the record of 7,950 MPs and MLAs who have held seats since 2004. A total of 11,063 (18 per cent) out of 62,847 candidates have declared criminal cases against themselves, while 5,253 (8 per cent) out of the 11,063 candidates declared serious criminal cases. A total of 62,847 candidates contested either state or parliamentary elections, of them 4,181 candidates re-contested elections. Of these, the assets of about 1,615 candidates showed an increase of over 200 percent, 684 showed an increase of over 500 percent and 317 candidates of over 1000 percent.

In terms of assets, it was Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) which tops the chart with average assets of a candidate being Rs.6.02 crore.

“As per the Supreme Court order, election candidates have to submit an affidavit declaring details of criminal record, education and assets. Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has been systematically collecting and compiling information from these affidavits as and when they were filed since 2004,” says Professor Trilochan Sastry from faculty of IIM Bangalore and one of the founder member of NEW and ADR.

“It’s high time that a country like ours got leaders who were honest and more capable to form the government. Our analysis shows that 30 per cent Lok Sabha MPs and 17 per cent sitting MPs from Rajya Sabha have serious criminal cases against them. There is no positive sign in the analysis that has come out,” Professor Sastry explained.

But as of now, money and muscle power will continue to win elections and help make politics a rather lucrative business.

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