Growing criminalization of politics has been a most disturbing phenomenon in the country’s politics. More and more candidates with criminal backgrounds are not just contesting the elections but are also getting elected to become lawmakers! Another curious aspect is that this happens to be one sphere where political parties strike a unanimous chord, cutting across their ‘ideologies’. A case in point is the imminent Assembly poll in the State where different parties are fielding tainted candidates with serious criminal antecedents. The expanding list of candidates who face serious criminal charges with cases pending against them corroborates the growing criminalization of politics. Even charge-sheeted and convicted politicians are known to have contested and won polls. It is an open secret that many candidates are actually hardcore criminals even though their guilt is yet to be established in a court of law – something that stems largely from the influence that such criminals wield, especially in matters of police investigation and gathering of evidence against them. By fielding such criminal elements, the parties have let it known that they have little respect for the democratic ethos. In the absence of any effective deterrent, criminalization of politics has spread like cancer, eroding the very foundations of democracy.
Among the 264 candidates in the first phase, 41 have criminal cases against them. According to a report by the National Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms, 34 such candidates have serious criminal cases against them. Among the major political parties, 10 of the 43 Congress nominees, eight of the 41 AJP and three of the 39 BJP have declared criminal cases against them in their self-sworn affidavits. The directions of the Supreme Court have apparently had no effect on the political parties in selection of candidates, as they remained true to their old practice of giving tickets to around 16% candidates with criminal cases. Worryingly, all major parties contesting in the first phase have given tickets to 8% to 23% candidates with criminal cases. Lack of decent educational qualification continues to be another bane, with 97 (37%) candidates having educational qualification to be between fifth and 12th standards. The assets declared by the candidates also leave none in any doubt whatsoever about the dubious means through which the political class is amassing wealth. Indeed, criminalization of politics has hit an unprecedented low with startling revelations surfacing almost every day. This has consequently led to growing use of money and muscle power in the polls. Society today needs a vigorous campaign against corrupt and criminal politicians for cleansing the system. But unless a stringent mechanism for transparency, accountability, and rule of law is there, things are unlikely to improve. The depressing scenario notwithstanding, it is imperative for the voter to exercise his right judiciously if we were to have some semblance of change for the better. Since the existing legal mechanism has done little in checking criminal elements from contesting elections, it is for the electorate to show them the door.