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Criminalisation of Politics

  • 06 May 2023
  • 12 min read

For Prelims: Criminalisation of Politics, Association for Democratic Reforms, Corruption, Contempt of Law, Black Money, RP Act 1951.

For Mains: Criminalisation of Politics, its causes and Implications.

Why in News?

Recently, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has revealed that the number of candidates with criminal cases has increased in all major political parties in Karnataka ahead of the 2023 Assembly Elections, highlighting the Issue of Criminalisation of Politics.

  • The ADR has recommended the permanent disqualification of candidates convicted of serious criminal offenses from contesting elections. However, such disqualifications have not been implemented yet.

What is the Criminalisation of Politics?

  • About:
    • Criminalisation of politics is defined as the situation when criminals participate in the politics of the government, i.e., contest elections and get elected to the Parliament and state legislatures.
    • This growing menace has become a big problem for our society, affecting the basic principles of democracy, such as fairness in elections, following the law, and being accountable.
  • Statistics:
    • According to data from the ADR, the number of candidates with criminal charges elected to Parliament in India has been on the rise since 2004.
    • In 2004, 24% of parliamentarians had pending criminal cases, which rose to 43% in 2019.
    • In a petition filed in Feb 2023, it was claimed that there has been an increase of 44% in the number of MPs with declared criminal cases since 2009.
      • In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, 159 MPs had declared serious criminal cases against them, including those of rape, murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, crimes against women.

What are the Causes of Criminalisation of Politics?

  • Vote Bank:
    • Candidates and political parties often resort to illegal means such as vote-buying and other illegitimate practices, aided by individuals commonly referred to as "goondas”.
    • This culture of political crime is often perpetuated by the close links between politicians and their constituencies providing a conducive environment for the misuse of power and resources for personal gain, leading to corruption and criminal activities.
  • Corruption:
    • The majority of candidates contesting elections require money, funds, and donations. It is pertinent to note that corruption directly gives rise to contempt of the law.
    • There is a direct relationship between contempt of law and criminalisation of politics. When contempt of law combines with the criminalisation of politics, it gives birth to flourishing corruption.
  • Vested Interests:
    • People generally vote through a narrow prism of community interests and neglect the criminal background of the politicians.
    • This can lead to a situation where politicians with a criminal background are elected simply because they align with the interests of a particular community, rather than being held accountable for their actions.
  • Muscle Power:
    • Politicians make promises to eliminate corruption and muscle power during elections, but rarely follow through.
    • The First Past the Post (FPTP) system favors the candidate with the most votes. The ideology behind using muscle power is that fear and violence can help parties win if they can't gain trust.
      • The FPTP system is also known as the simple majority system. In this voting method, the candidate with the highest number of votes in a constituency is declared the winner.
    • This creates a dangerous nexus between political parties and criminals.
  • Money Power:
    • Black money and mafia funds contribute significantly to the criminalisation of politics. These illegal sources of money are used to buy votes and win elections, leading to a rise in criminalisation in politics.
  • Poor Governance:
    • The poor governance of the country also plays an important role in increasing the criminalization of politics. There is absence of proper laws and rules for governing the procedure of the election.

What are the Implications of Criminalisation of Politics?

  • Against the Principle of Free and Fair Elections: It limits the choice of voters to elect a suitable candidate.
  • Affecting Good Governance: The major problem is that the law-breakers become law-makers, this affects the efficacy of the democratic process in delivering good governance.
    • These unhealthy tendencies in the democratic system reflect a poor image of the nature of India’s state institutions and the quality of its elected representatives.
  • Affecting Integrity of Public Servants: The circulation of black money makes it easier for politicians to buy votes and secure their positions, leading to a situation where corrupt practices are normalized and become a part of the political system.
    • This makes it difficult for honest public servants to work effectively and can erode public trust in the government.
  • Causes Social Disharmony: It introduces a culture of violence in society and sets a bad precedent for the youth to follow and reduces people's faith in democracy as a system of governance.

What are the Legal Aspects of Disqualification of Criminal Candidates?

  • In this regard, Indian Constitution does not specify as to what disqualifies a person from contesting elections for the Parliament, Legislative assembly or any other legislature.
  • The Representation of Peoples Act 1951 mentions the criteria for disqualifying a person for contesting an election of the legislature.
    • Section 8 of the act provides for disqualification on conviction for certain offences, according to which an individual punished with a jail term of more than two years cannot stand in an election for six years after the jail term has ended.
    • However, the law does not bar individuals who have criminal cases pending against them from contesting elections therefore the disqualification of candidates with criminal cases depends on their conviction in these cases.

What are the Initiatives/Recommendations Against Criminalisation of Politics?

  • In 1983, Vohra Committee on Criminalisation of Politics was constituted with an objective to identify the extent of the political-criminal nexus and to recommend ways in which the criminalisation of politics can be effectively dealt with.
  • The 244th report (2014) submitted by the Law Commission dealt with the need to curb the trend of criminal politicians in legislature posing serious consequences to democracy and secularism.
    • The Law Commission recommended disqualification of people against whom charges have been framed at least one year before the date of scrutiny of nominations for an offence punishable with a sentence of five years or more.
  • In 2017, the Union government started a scheme to establish 12 special courts for a year to fast track the trial of criminal cases against MPs and MLAs.
    • The apex court has since then issued many directions, including asking the Centre to set up a monitoring committee to examine reasons for delay of investigation in these cases.

What are the SC Judgements Regarding Criminalization of Politics?

  • Association for Democratic Reforms v. Union of India (2002):
    • In 2002, the SC ruled that every candidate contesting election has to declare his criminal and financial records along with educational qualifications.
  • Ramesh Dalal vs. Union of India (2005):
    • In 2005, the SC had ruled that a sitting MP or MLA will be disqualified from contesting the election if convicted and sentenced for imprisonment for two years or more by a court of law.
  • Lily Thomas v. Union of India (2013):
    • The SC has declared that any member of parliament or state legislative assembly who is convicted of a crime and sentenced to a prison term of two years or more would be disqualified from holding office.
  • Manoj Narula v. Union of India (2014):
    • The Delhi HC held that a person cannot be disqualified from contesting elections merely because they have been charged with a criminal offense.
    • However, the court also held that political parties must not field candidates who have a criminal background.
  • Public Interest Foundation v. Union of India (2019):
    • The SC has ordered political parties to publish the criminal records of their candidates on their websites, social media handles, and newspapers.
    • The court also directed the ECI to create a framework to ensure that the information on candidates' criminal records was disseminated effectively.

Way Forward

  • More Power to ECI: Committees on electoral reforms have recommended state funding of elections and strengthening the Election Commission to curb black money and limit criminalisation of politics.
  • Voters' Duty: Voters should also be vigilant about misuse of money during elections. The judiciary should play a proactive role by considering banning people accused with serious criminal charges from contesting elections.
  • Expeditious Judicial Processes: Fast-tracking the judicial process can help weed out the corrupt as well as criminal elements in the political system. A time-bound justice delivery system, firmer steps by the ECI and a proper strengthening of relevant laws.
  • Amending RPA: Increasing criminalisation in politics calls for an amendment in the RPA 1951 to debar the persons from contesting elections against whom any serious Nature of crimes is pending.

UPSC Civil Services Examination, Previous Year Question (PYQ)


Q. It is often said that ‘politics’ and ‘ethics’ do not go together. What is your opinion in this regard? Justify your answer with illustrations. (2013)

Source: TH

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