Proving that parties gave precedence to the ‘winnability factor’ over all else when choosing candidates, nearly 10% (328) of the 3,305 people who have filed their nomination papers so far in the Lok Sabha elections have a serious criminal record — 2% more than in 2009. The candidates are also, on average, richer this time around compared to five years ago and there are more crorepatis.
Association for Democratic Rights’ (ADR), an electoral reform advocacy group, analysed the affidavits filed in the first five phases of the polls. Serious crimes, for purpose of candidate evaluation, include extortion, murder, rape and any crime where the minimum punishment is five years.
Leading the pack, the BJP’s tainted tally of 18% — up from 11% in 2009 — is especially ironic as its PM pick Narendra Modi recently proposed in a TV interview that the SC should fast-track cases against tainted MPs.
In a positive turn, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s insistence that the party pick only clean candidates seems to have had a small impact. Its tainted tally fell from 12% in 2009 to 11% this time around.
About 11% of candidates fielded by BSP are on the wrong side of law followed by the SP (10%). The percentages are likely to go up as nominations are filed for the next four phases from Bihar and UP.
“Until people stop voting for candidates with criminal backgrounds, the parties will continue to give them tickets as they believe that they can use their money and muscle power to garner votes,” said ADR co-founder Jagdeep Chhokar, on whose petition the SC made filing of asset and criminal record affidavits mandatory for candidates.
But when it comes to tainted candidates, the national parties are eclipsed by regional parties.
About 60% of candidates fielded by Raj Thackeray’s MNS have a serious crime registered against them. About 40% of those fielded by Sharad Pawar’s NCP also have a shady past. The percentage of tainted candidates in the DMK, AIADMK, Trinamool Congress, Janata Dal (United) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) hover around 10% to 35%.
Former chief election commissioner S Y Quraishi, who got the UPA government to hold consultation on electoral reforms, was saddened by the trend.
“What can I say more than that the government is not serious about reforms that can bring in positive change in the country’s democratic institutions? We (the EC) had been asking the government to debar people charged with serious crimes from contesting polls but it is pending for almost 15 years,” he added.
The ADR data also showed that the average asset of candidates in this election has doubled in comparison to 2009. Average asset of a Congress candidate this election is Rs 54 crore, thanks to Nandan Nilekani who declared his asset worth Rs 7,700 crore. The average for the Congress in 2009 was Rs 4.87 crore.
The average asset of BJP is Rs 8.55 crore – nearly double its average in 2009. SP and BSP have recorded a three-fold increase in the average asset of its candidates.