It is said about Lalu Prasad that in the 1990s when he was at the peak of his political career he made bureaucrats, as senior as secretaries and collectors, stand in queue for hours for an audience with him. He made upper-caste babus visit houses of lower-caste villagers, feed them and even comb their hair. So much so, that a couple of IAS and IPS officers quit their jobs in protest.
On Monday, after a CBI court convicted him in the 17-year-old fodder scam the same man pleaded for leniency. “I was chief minister of Bihar for two consecutive terms and Union railway minister. Please consider awarding me a lesser punishment,” Lalu told the judge. Will the mighty Lalu’s sentencing — coming a day after the cabinet reversed its decision to overturn a Supreme Court judgment that said legislators would immediately lose seats on conviction — cleanse Indian politics? Will parties think twice before fielding people against whom there are criminal charges?
Unlike Uttar Pradesh, where 47% of the MLAs have criminal charges, and Bihar, where the corresponding figure is 58%, poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram are comparatively ‘clean’.
Nevertheless, even before Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi questioned the ordinance seeking to protect convicted lawmakers, political parties in these states had more or less decided to go slow in fielding such candidates.
Rajasthan and MP
In Rajasthan, about 15% of the MLAs face criminal cases of various nature. Of those, the ruling Congress has the highest number of them, followed by the opposition BJP. “Political parties should get together and bring in strong legislation that will check entry of criminals in politics,” said BJP state general secretary Satish Poonia. Madhya Pradesh Congress spokesman Abhay Dubey was more specific. “The forms, assembly ticket aspirants have been asked to fill, have a separate column on criminal cases and this information would be crucial for selection,” he said.
Dubey also pointed out that 80% of the cases against politicians were fallouts of political rivalry or related to political action like demonstrations. “The Election Commission should look into this, because the cases registered for political action are under the same sections as in general crime.” That said, not everyone is putting cleanliness over ‘winnability’. A senior party functionary of the BJP, who did not want to be named, told HT, “Clean background would be prime only till the time it does not hamper the winning factor.”
Mizoram and Chhattisgarh
Mizoram’s network of traditional community-based organisations, which have the backing of a conglomeration of churches, ensures parties field clean candidates. In the 2008 assembly elections, only five out of the 206 contestants had criminal records. “Voters are particular about the profile of the candidates. So we were always careful about choosing acceptable candidates,” said Mizo National Front (MNF) president Zoramthanga.
Chhattisgarh is no Mizoram, but only 11 out 90 MLAs have criminal records. Explaining the figures on criminal records, social activist Vijendra Aznabi, said: “With no money and muscle power, the need for committing grave criminal activities for political gain was never felt in the state.”