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At a public rally in his pocketborough, Ahmedabad, on Tuesday, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, said that he would put all politicians with criminal backgrounds behind bars without any discrimination. While this will go down well with the electorate, even they — and Mr Modi, of course — know that this is not going to be an easy task. The relationship between money, muscle power and Indian politics is well documented.
Before the polls got underway on April 7, the Election Commission (EC) declared that it has drawn up an “exhaustive plan” to check the use of muscle and money power that politicians often use to win. “The use of money power is one of the foremost challenges, particularly in some states,” chief election commissioner VS Sampath told the press. Based on incidents during past elections and complaints, the EC has identified Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Delhi as major violators, where it will send additional observers and central forces in advance to check the menace.
The challenge facing Mr Modi, if he at all takes up this cause, will be mammoth: According to a report published in a national daily, half the MPs in Jharkhand are facing criminal charges. At 48% Maharashtra is second in the list of MPs facing criminal charges, followed by Gujarat, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The Shiv Sena, the BJP’s ally, tops the list of most party MPs facing criminal charges: 80% of its 10 MPs face criminal charges. The BJP comes second with 41.07% of its 112 MPs, JD(U) is third with 36.84% of its 19 MPs.
Recently, Law Commission chairman and former Delhi high court Chief Justice AP Shah accused the political class of not being serious about electoral reforms. “This was one of the reasons why criminal elements entered politics and tainted money came into the economy,” he said, pointing out that when the law panel called a meeting of major parties for consultation — just before responding to the Supreme Court on the issue of disqualification of charge-sheeted politicians from contesting elections — the BJP, the Congress and even AAP stayed away. So it’s pretty clear that the parties don’t see this as a vital issue or are not very keen to act on it.
But finally instilling the fear of arrest will not be enough because court cases continue for a long time and a good lawyer and money power can remove many obstacles. What needs to be done is better screening at the entry point and weeding out undesirable elements along the way. However, as we know, in such drives only the small fish get caught. How Mr Modi tackles the big fish will be the acid test.