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Crooks, perhaps, but not fools!

Topping the crime and murder stakes ? if I can so phrase it ? is Trinamool. But the Congress is a close second, writes Karan Thapar.

india Updated: May 14, 2006 00:17 IST

I wonder how many of us really know the candidates we vote for? An organisation called the West Bengal Election Watch, under the guidance of the indomitable and indefatigable Bibhu Mohapatra, has pieced together a picture of the 1,128 candidates fielded by the 16 main parties in the just concluded state elections which is often horrifying and depressing but ultimately not totally displeasing.

The best part is no one can doubt its accuracy or authenticity. It’s based on facts culled from affidavits filed by the candidates themselves. One out of 5 (actually 21.7 per cent) face criminal charges.

In fact, each of the 16 main parties has fielded such ‘tainted’ candidates. None can claim to be clean. Worse, at least 12 have candidates accused of murder or attempt to murder. The exceptions — or do I mean anomalies? — are CPI (ML)(L), JD(U), RSP and JKP(N).

Topping the crime and murder stakes — if I can so phrase it — is Trinamool. But the Congress is a close second; 36 per cent of the former’s candidates face criminal charges whilst 11 per cent are accused of murder. For the Congress, the figures are 32 per cent and 9.5 per cent.

Trinamool is also ahead when you look at candidates accused of theft. It has 22 or 8.5 per cent compared to the Congress’s 20 or 7.6 per cent. But where the Congress has turned the tables is in the area of indecent assault on women and cruelty to wives. India’s grand old party with its 121 year history is ahead by 33 per cent. But let me not for a moment suggest the Communists emerge clean or lightly tainted. 14 per cent of the CPM’s candidates face criminal cases. This figure includes 3 who are accused of murder, 14 charged with theft, 3 with kidnapping and 1 with indecent assault; 8 others are in the dock for wrongful confinement.

The obvious question is what explanation do the parties trot out for this dismal situation. The answer is almost as extraordinary as the predicament they confront. According to Congress and Trinamool these are trumped up charges slapped on them by ‘the establishment’. In other words the CPM is to blame. But, then, what explanation does the CPM offer? As the establishment it can hardly accuse itself. It blames landlords and industrialists. Hard as it is to believe this, these were the excuses given to me on television last week.

However, Bibhu’s organisation hasn’t limited its portrait to alleged penal code crimes. It also covers the economic profile of the candidates. And here, if anything, the picture is perplexing. Altogether 56.4 per cent have not given their PAN numbers. Can it really be that so large a proportion are not tax assessees?

Party-wise, 50.76 per cent of Congress candidates have thus defaulted. One such is Deepa Dasmunsi who, nonetheless, has declared property worth Rs 78 lakhs. She also happens to be a Cabinet minister’s wife. But this time Trinamool ‘loses’ by a mere whisker. It’s second with 50.19 per cent. Far ahead of both is the Bahujan Samaj Party with nearly 86 per cent of its candidates failing to give PAN details whilst the CPM’s tally is just 42 per cent.

However, a CPM candidate called Biplab Chatterjee has the biggest liabilities — Rs 50 lakhs compared to assets of around 31. But, again, Trinamool scores over everyone with 17 candidates (or 7 per cent) with liabilities over Rs 10 lakhs each. That’s almost three times the figure for Congress or CPM. On the other hand, the Congress has the most crorepatis. Nine. But wait for this: the Left parties taken together are next with 6 and CPM alone can claim half that number. Trinamool comes in with just 5.

There is, however, a brighter side to the picture Bibhu paints. And believe it or not it’s to do with the education levels of the candidates. Nearly 64 per cent of those fielded by Trinamool are graduates compared to a close 62 per cent for CPM and just 53 per cent for the Congress. So even if Mamata doesn’t appear to care about moral fibre she certainly seems to scrutinise academic qualifications! But what of Sonia? Don’t degrees matter to the Gandhi family? Incidentally, a mere 44 per cent of BJP candidates are graduates. So clearly degrees don’t matter here which, perhaps, is one reason why the BJP has performed so badly.

Oh well, even if West Bengal is destined to be ruled by ‘crooks’ at least they are not ‘fools’!

First Published: May 14, 2006 00:17 IST