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Criminalisation of politics: causes, impacts and solutions – Explained, pointwise

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  • 1 Introduction
  • 2 A little background of the petition 
  • 3 What is criminalisation of politics? 
  • 4 What are the recent trends? 
  • 5 What are the causes of criminalisation of politics in India? 
  • 6 What are the impacts of criminalisation of politics in India? 
  • 7 What are the initiatives taken so far to overcome the issue of the criminalisation of politics in India? 
  • 8 What are some of the landmark judgements on criminalisation of politics in India? 
  • 9 What are the various recommendations on de-criminalization of politics? 
  • 10 What should be done? 

Introduction

Recently, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) wrote to the Election Commission (ECI), seeking action against political parties that failed to publish details of criminal records of their candidates as per orders of the Supreme Court and the ECI. Activists and independent electoral watchdogs like ADR have been raising concerns over criminalisation of politics for a long time. The increasing trend of criminalisation of politics poses a significant threat to the democratic system.  

A little background of the petition  

In a petition filed by Public Interest Foundation , the Supreme Court in 2018, made it mandatory for political parties to widely publicize the details of criminal cases pending against their candidates.  

Subsequently, in February 2020, while hearing a contempt petition regarding its 2018 order not being implemented, the court repeated that the parties would have to publish the details of candidates with pending criminal cases. It also added that they would have to include the reasons for selecting such a candidate.  

However, an analysis of data by the ADR of Karnataka, Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh elections shows that the number of candidates with criminal antecedents has only increased from previous elections.  

A petition filed by the ADR in 2022 in the Supreme Court sought contempt proceedings against various political leaders for not complying with earlier Supreme Court orders.  

The Supreme Court, earlier in 2023, dismissed the petition and asked ADR to pursue the remedies before the EC. This led ADR to write the letter to ECI.  

What is criminalisation of politics?  

  “Criminalisation of politics” refe rs to the entry of criminals and corrupt individuals into the political system. These individuals then exploit their positions of power and influence to prioritize their personal agendas over the welfare of the nation and its people.  

  Read more : What is the criminalisation of politics?  

What are the recent trends?  

Data by the ADR reveals that the number of candidates with criminal charges getting elected to Parliament has been on the rise since 2004.  

In 2004, around 24% of Members of Parliament (MPs) had pending criminal cases against them. By 2009, this percentage increased to 30%, followed by a further rise to 34% in 2014. In 2019, as many as 43% of MPs had criminal cases pending against them.  

According to a recent report published by ADR, in the recently held Karnataka elections, approximately 45 per cent of the candidates had criminal cases registered against them. Nearly 30 per cent of these candidates were accused of grave offences, including rape and murder.  

What are the causes of criminalisation of politics in India?  

Attraction of the strongmen : Due to the government’s failure to address the socio-economic and political concerns of the people, they are attracted towards people with a criminal image. These strongmen, who possess both power and wealth, are expected to fulfill the needs of the people.  

Vote bank politics: Money and muscle power of criminals help political parties gain votes. Since, in India electoral politics is more about caste, ethnicity, religion and several other factors, candidates overcome the reputational loss due to criminal charges and come out as victorious in elections.  

Black money in elections: Electoral politics is largely dependent on the money and the funding that it receives. Since candidates with criminal records often possess greater wealth, they ensure greater inflow in money, labour and other advantages that may help a party in successful campaign, and also possess greater ‘winnability’. Researech suggests that a candidate with a tainted reputation is three times more likely to win an election than a candidate with a clean record.  

Lack of Intra-party democracy: Political parties in India largely lack intra-party democracy and the decisions on candidature are largely taken by the elite leadership of the party. Thus, politicians with criminal records often escape the scrutiny by local workers and organisation of the party.  

Lack of adequate deterrence: Due to the low levels of convictions of MPs and MLAs, and delays in trials, political parties are not deterred from giving tickets to criminals.  

Loopholes in the functioning of Election Commission : The Election Commission has prescribed forms for the contestants of elections to disclose their property details, cases pending in courts, convictions etc. while filing their nomination papers. However, these steps have not been stringent enough to break the nexus between crime and politics.  

What are the impacts of criminalisation of politics in India?  

Undermines democracy: The foundation of a democracy is the trust between its citizens and those elected to govern on their behalf. When elected representatives have criminal backgrounds, it undermines this trust and erodes the credibility of the democratic system.  

Poor governance: Individuals with criminal backgrounds often lack the skills, education, and understanding necessary to govern effectively. Their policies and decisions may be guided by their own personal interests rather than the interests of their constituents.  

Cultivates culture of impunity: Criminalisation of politics can foster a culture of impunity where individuals believe they can commit crimes without facing consequences, which can lead to increased crime rates and a general lack of respect for the law.  

Encourages corruption: Politicians with criminal backgrounds are more likely to engage in corrupt practices, such as bribery, fraud, and embezzlement, further undermining the legitimacy of the government and public faith in it.  

Impact on economic development : The chronic corruption and mismanagement associated with criminal politicians can deter both domestic and foreign investors, stymie economic growth, and exacerbate poverty and inequality.  

Hampers social development: With corruption and self-interest driving policymaking, social development initiatives, such as health, education, and welfare programs, can be severely compromised, preventing the upliftment of disadvantaged groups.  

Taints international reputation: The criminalisation of politics can damage India’s reputation on the international stage, making it more difficult to engage in beneficial relationships with other countries and international organizations.  

What are the initiatives taken so far to overcome the issue of the criminalisation of politics in India?  

Constitutional initiative: Articles 84 and 173 deal with eligibility, whereas articles 102 and 191 deal with the disqualification of the House of Parliament and state legislative assemblies respectively.  

Legislative initiative: Indian Penal Code: Chapter IX A of Indian Penal Code deals with offences relating to elections . There are nine portions in it. For crimes like bribery, improper influence, and impersonation during elections, it defines them and lays forth the associated penalties.  

Representation of People Act (RPA), 1951: Section 8 of the Act lists certain offences which, if a person is convicted of any of them, disqualifies him from being elected, or continuing as, a Member of Parliament or Legislative Assembly.  

A candidate for any National or State Assembly elections is required to furnish an affidavit, in the shape of Form 26 appended to the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 . Failure to furnish this information, concealment of information or giving of false information is an offence under Section125A of the RPA .   

What are some of the landmark judgements on criminalisation of politics in India? 

In Union of India (UOI) v. Association for Democratic Reforms and Anr, 2002 , the SC held that every candidate, contesting an election to the Parliament, State Legislatures or Municipal Corporation, must declare their criminal records, financial records and educational qualifications along with their nomination paper.  

In Ramesh Dalal vs. Union of India, 2005 , the SC held that a sitting MP or MLA shall also be subject to disqualification from contesting elections if he is convicted and sentenced to not less than 2 years of imprisonment by a court of law.  

The SC in  Public Interest Foundation vs Union of India case , 2018 had also directed political parties to publish online the pending criminal cases of their candidates. In this case, the court left the matter of disqualification of politicians carrying criminal charges against them to Parliament saying that the court cannot add to the grounds of disqualification.  

Order to establish Special Courts: Accordingly, the Union Government facilitated setting up of 12 Special Courts in States which had 65 and above pending cases, for expeditious trial of criminal cases involving MP/MLAs. Accordingly , 12 Special Courts (02 in NCT of Delhi and 01 each in the state of UP, Bihar, WB, MP, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala) were constituted. Performance of these special courts is being monitored by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India.  

What are the various recommendations on de-criminalization of politics?  

Read here: Important Recommendations  

What should be done?  

Legal reforms: The laws concerning the disqualification of candidates with criminal backgrounds need to be strengthened. For instance , 2nd ARC recommended amending section 8 of RPA to disqualify all persons facing charges related to grave and heinous offences and corruption, where charges have been framed six months before the election .   

Time-bound justice delivery system: Fast tracking trials and expediting the judicial process through a time-bound justice delivery system will weed out the corrupt as well as criminal elements in the political system.  

Pressure on political parties: P ressure must be exerted on political parties to make them accountable for their choices. Political parties must realise that they must follow the rule of law and that they are not above the law.  

Strict enforcement of directives: The ECI needs to strictly enforce the directives of the Supreme Court. Parties that do not comply with these directives should face penalties, including fines, as suggested by the ADR. In extreme cases, non-compliant parties could be deregistered.  

Internal democracy in political parties: Encouraging internal democracy within political parties can also help. When party members have a say in candidate selection, they are more likely to choose individuals of integrity.  

Implementing recommendations of various committees: The recommendations of several committees, such as the Vohra Committee (1993) and Goswami Committee and law commission report (170 and 244 th), which have focused on tackling the criminalisation of politics, need to be fully implemented.  

Use of technology: Technology can be harnessed to ensure speedy trials and provide easy access to information about candidates. For instance, online platforms could be used to maintain a publicly accessible database of the criminal records of all political candidates.  

Sources : ADR , Indian Express ( Article1 , Article2 ), Department of Justice , Free Press Journal , SCO  

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Alan Dershowitz , Trumped Up: How Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers Democracy (2017).

Abstract: In our current age of hyper-partisan politics, nearly everyone takes sides. This is especially true with regard to the Trump presidency. It has become difficult to have a reasonable discussion about the most controversial president in our recent history. For Trump zealots, their president has not only committed no crimes, he has done nothing wrong. For anti-Trump zealots, nothing Trump has done—even in foreign policy—is good. Everything he has done is wrong, and since it is wrong, it must necessarily be criminal. This deeply undemocratic fallacy—that political sins must be investigated and prosecuted as criminal—is an exceedingly dangerous trend. Hardening positions on both sides has been manifested by increasing demands to criminalize political differences. Both sides scream “lock ‘em up” instead of making substantive criticisms of opposing views. The real fear, as Alan Dershowitz argues, in this compelling collection, is that we have weakened our national commitment to civil liberties as the Left becomes ever more intolerant and the Right slips into authoritarian rhetoric. The vibrant center is weakening, with traditional liberalism and conservatism becoming further apart, not just in approach, but in their respect for Constitutional norms that have served us well for more than two centuries. While Donald Trump is not the only cause of this profound division, his election drew it to the surface and made it the dominant paradigm of political debate. Unless we as a nation begin to focus again on what unites us rather than on what divides us, America might not survive the next decade.

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Criminalization of Politics

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GS-II: Governance

  • What is ‘criminalization of politics’ and its status in India?

What are the reasons for the criminalization of politics in India?

What are the legal and constitutional tools to deal with the criminalization of politics in india, what are the outcomes of criminalization of the indian political landscape, what are the various measures taken to deal with the issue of criminalization of politics in india, what are the ways to decriminalize indian politics.

Prelims:    Indian Polity and Governance – Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.

Mains :   Salient Features of the Representation of People’s Act,  Appointment to various Constitutional Posts, Powers, Functions and Responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies.

criminalisation of politics essay

What is ‘criminalization of politics’ and its status in India?

In India, the Criminalization of politics has become a growing concern, with a significant number of elected officials facing criminal charges. This has led to public distrust in the political system and the perception that politicians use their power to evade the law.

The criminalization of politics refers to the involvement of individuals with a criminal record in the political arena. This can involve criminals running for and be elected to positions in Parliament and State Legislatures. It often occurs due to the close relationship between politicians and criminal elements.

Association of Democratic Reforms(ADR) report reveals that in the 2014 General Elections for the 16th Lok Sabha, 186 (34%) out of the 541 winners had criminal cases filed against them. This is a jump from the numbers for the 2009 elections, when, out of the 521 winners, 158 (30%) had declared criminal cases.

There are several factors contributing to the criminalization of the political landscape in India:

  • Muscle power: For winnability, Political parties can even hire or nominate criminals as candidates because of their influence. Many politicians chose muscle power to gain a vote bank in the country.
  • Money power: Political parties and candidates use the money generated by criminal activities to influence voters, secure their support, and win elections. There also exists a quid pro quo between politicians and criminals to exchange favours or benefits.
  • Loopholes in the functioning of the election machinery: The voters are not usually aware of the history of the candidate, qualifications, and cases pending against him.  
  • Ineffective judicial system & delayed justice: The thousands and thousands of cases are pending in District Courts, High Courts, and Supreme Court against these criminals cum politicians.
  • Lack of enforcement: Several laws and court judgments have not helped much due to the lack of enforcement of laws and judgments.
  • Vested interests: Publishing the criminal history of candidates fielded by political parties may be ineffective, as a major chunk of voters tend to vote through a narrow prism of community interests like caste or religion.
  • Politico-criminal nexus: This nexus between politicians and criminals, such as organized crime syndicates, drug cartels, etc, helps to advance their own interests or to gain power and influence.
  • Indian Constitution does not specify what disqualifies a person from contesting elections for the Parliament, Legislative assembly, or any other legislature.
  • In the present scenario, under the Representation of Peoples (RP) Act 1951, lawmakers cannot contest elections only after their conviction in a criminal case.
  • Section 8 of the act, i.e., disqualification on conviction for certain offenses, according to which an individual punished with a jail term of more than two years cannot stand in an election for six years after the jail term has ended.
  • The Election Commission of India, under the Representation of the People Act 1951, can remove or reduce the period of a person’s disqualification.

The criminalization of politics can have negative effects on democracy and the rule of law. It creates an environment where politicians and political parties engage in corrupt practices and undermines the trust of citizens in the political system. 

  • Impediment to Development: Criminalization of politics can act as an impediment to development, as politicians with criminal backgrounds may prioritize their own interests over the welfare of the people.
  • Weakening of Democratic Institutions: The presence of criminals in politics can also weaken democratic institutions, as they may try to manipulate the system to their advantage.
  • Impact on the Principle of Free and Fair Election: Criminalization of Politics goes against the principles of a free and fair election by limiting the options for voters to choose a deserving candidate.
  • Impairing Good Governance : The issue of criminal elements becoming elected officials undermines the democratic process and hampers the delivery of good governance.
  • Affecting Integrity of Public Servants: It also leads to increased circulation of black money during and after elections, which in turn increases corruption in society and affects the working of public servants.
  • Causes Social Disharmony: It introduces a culture of violence in society and sets a bad precedent for the youth to follow, and reduces people's faith in democracy as a system of governance.
  • Erodes Public Trust: Criminalization of politics erodes the public confidence in elected politicians who indulge in criminal activities.

Supreme Court  

  • Association for Democratic Reforms v. Union of India (2002): Supreme Court issued an order directing every candidate seeking election to the Parliament or a State Legislature to declare the criminal antecedents, assets, etc.
  • Immediate Disqualification of Convicted MPs and MLAs: The Supreme Court, in Lily Thomas case(2013) , held that charge-sheeted Members of Parliament and MLAs, on conviction for offenses, will be immediately disqualified from holding membership of the House without being given three months’ time for appeal, as was the case before. 
  • Fast Track Trial: The Supreme Court in March 2014 accepted the recommendations of the Law Commission and passed an order directing that trials against sitting MPs and MLAs must be concluded within a year of charges being framed.
  • Public Interest Foundation v. Union of India (2019): In this case, the Supreme Court of India ordered political parties to publish the criminal records of their candidates on their websites, social media handles, and newspapers.

Election Commission of India

  • Booth Capturing: In 1989, a provision was made for the adjournment of polls or countermanding elections in case of booth capturing. Booth capturing includes seizure and taking possession of polling stations, threatening and preventing any elector from going to polling stations.
  • Prohibition of Arms: Entering into the neighbourhood of a polling station with any kind of arms is considered a cognizable offense.
  • Curbing Muscle Power: The ECI has achieved considerable success in containing the role of muscle power through measures such as the effective implementation of the model code of conduct.
  • Model Code of Conduct(MCC): The Model Code of Conduct is implemented by the Election Commission, from time to time, by using its constitutional powers under Article 324.
  • Affidavits: Mandatory declaration of assets and existing criminal charges in affidavits to the ECI prior to elections has brought in some transparency.
  • Strict Legal Provisions like Lifetime Ban: The election commission endorsed the call for a lifetime ban in the apex court. It had argued that such a move would “champion the cause of decriminalization of politics”.
  • Proactive Judiciary: Given the reluctance by the political parties to curb the criminalization of politics and its growing detrimental effects on Indian democracy, Indian courts must now seriously consider banning people accused of serious criminal charges from contesting elections.
  • Active Citizenry: Voters should also be aware of the potential to misuse funds, gifts, and other incentives during elections.
  • State Funding of Elections: Various committees, such as Dinesh Goswami(1990) and Inderjeet Committee(1988), on the electoral reforms, have recommended state funding of elections which will curb the use of black money to a large extent and thereby will have a significant impact on limiting criminalization of politics.
  • Strengthening Election Commission: Regulating the affairs of a political party is essential for a cleaner electoral process. Therefore, it is imperative to strengthen the Election Commission of India and ensure its independence.

Previous Year Questions(PYQs)

Q) Consider the following statements: (2020)

  • According to the Constitution of India, a person who is eligible to vote can be made a minister in a State for six months even if he/she is not a member of the Legislature of that State.
  • According to the Representation of People Act, 1951, a person convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to imprisonment for five years is permanently disqualified from contesting an election even after his release from prison.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)

Q)   is model code of conduct enforceable through law.

No, Model Code of Conduct is not enforceable through any law. However, the Election Commission can take action by using its wide powers under Article 324.

Q) Can a person, who is convicted, contest the elections after completing his/her sentence?

According to Representation of People’s 1951, Individuals punished with a jail term of more than two years cannot stand in an election for six years after the jail term has ended. The Election Commission has endorsed multiple times for lifetime ban for the convicted person.

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Criminalisation of Politics: A Grave Threat to Democracy

The infiltration of criminals into politics has become a growing concern, raising serious questions about the integrity of democratic processes. The criminalisation of politics, with candidates charged with heinous offences holding positions of power, has cast a shadow on governance, accountability, and the people's trust, writes Diksha Puri.

Recently, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an advocacy group focused on electoral reforms, wrote a letter to the Election Commission of India (ECI) urging the Commission to take action against political parties that have failed to disclose the criminal backgrounds of candidates they have nominated in various assembly elections conducted in recent years.

Prof. Trilochan Sastry, Founder and Trustee of  Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) speaks on criminalisation of politics  

Based on the Supreme Court’s directives on September 25, 2018, and February 13, 2020, political parties have been instructed to disclose the criminal histories of candidates contesting elections. They are also required to provide reasons for nominating these candidates, regardless of their perceived chances of winning. The ECI has further issued a directive to ensure the implementation of the court’s orders regarding the declaration of candidates’ criminal backgrounds. However, despite multiple reminders, several political parties in India persistently neglect to fulfil these obligations of public disclosure.

“Electoral reforms have been at the forefront of ADR’s commitment. We have been doing many surveys on criminal politicians, and we ensure that this information is readily available to the public. The time has come for the Election Commission of India to take decisive action against political parties that willfully defy the directives of both the Supreme Court and the ECI. Individuals engaged in criminal activities are ill-suited for governance as their focus remains fixated on their unlawful pursuits. Consequently, corruption thrives, public services deteriorate, roads suffer, government schools falter, and public healthcare centres operate inefficiently. These criminals prioritise self-interest over serving the people. Hence, those genuinely dedicated to public service must be given tickets by political parties to contest in elections, but there is no political will to make this a reality,” states Prof. Trilochan Sastry, Founder and Trustee of ADR.

According to Professor Sastry, the voters need to be well-informed about the serious criminal cases linked to the candidates they are considering supporting. He suggests that if voters were provided with comprehensive details of these criminal cases right at the polling booth before they cast their votes, it could have a significant impact on the electoral outcomes. By making such information readily available, many candidates with criminal backgrounds may lose public trust and support.

Senior advocate Vikas Singh, who previously represented the Election Commission in a case pertaining to the criminalisation of politics, says there are huge complexities surrounding the matter. He emphasises that the responsibility should lie with political parties not to nominate candidates with criminal backgrounds. In an interview with The Probe, Vikas Singh, who also serves as the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), notes that the political class is employing manipulative tactics in an attempt to undermine the directives of the apex court.

“The Supreme Court’s directive was clear – the criminal backgrounds of candidates given tickets by political parties should be made public on the website. However, this measure proved ineffective as criminals contested and even won elections. Recognising the need for a more robust solution, I proposed that pressure be exerted on political parties, making them accountable for their choices. It was crucial to question why they were granting tickets to criminals instead of individuals with good reputations. Unfortunately, political parties started circumventing the directive of the Supreme Court by adopting a standard defence tactic, claiming false cases were foisted against the candidates nominated by them. They started presenting these criminal candidates as social workers. In each case, they began using this generic one-liner defence without examining the merits of the case. As a result, the Supreme Court’s order was defeated,” explains Singh. 

Singh questions, “Why should politicians be given special powers? Can a charge-sheeted person become an IAS officer? Can he hold any civil services posts? Then why should politicians be given this unfair privilege which goes against the very spirit of our democracy? In this case, the change can only be brought in by the Parliament. The Election Commission has been turned into a toothless body. Only political will can bring about change”.

According to a recent report published by ADR, approximately 45 per cent of the candidates from Congress, BJP, and JD(S) who participated in the recently held Karnataka elections had criminal cases registered against them. Alarmingly, nearly 30 per cent of these candidates were accused of grave offences, including rape and murder. Professor Sastry highlights that India stands out as one of the few countries where criminals are permitted to participate freely in elections and emerge as winners.

“Look, let’s take the example of the United States. If someone has a murder or rape case, they would never even be considered for a political ticket. Such individuals would be excluded from contesting elections. However, in India, that is not the case. This poses a serious threat to our democratic process. Democracy with criminals is not a healthy democracy. It is crucial to raise awareness among the people about the issue of criminalisation of politics. They need to understand that if they vote for such individuals, they are not just harming the country but also themselves. For instance, if you are a person from an economically disadvantaged background and you vote for such candidates, your children’s education will suffer because the schools won’t be properly run. Similarly, when you need medical assistance, the hospitals will not function effectively due to the massive corruption indulged in by these criminals. You will be deprived of basic amenities and services,” notes Professor Sastry. 

According to Gopal Sankaranarayanan, a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court of India, many politicians are well aware of the significant power and influence they hold as lawmakers. They recognise that their positions grant them the ability to not only block any laws that could hold them accountable but also to exert influence over government officials, ensuring that cases are not filed against them and that they remain protected.

“ADR surveys have shown a gradual rise in the numbers of individuals with criminal offences and charges framed against them. Currently, nearly 44 per cent of all Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) face serious criminal charges. This is a highly concerning situation. However, both the Supreme Court and the Election Commission find their hands tied in addressing this issue. The resolution lies in the existence of a political will, which unfortunately is challenging to come by,” asserts Sankaranarayanan. 

Jagdeep S Chhokar, the Founder and Trustee of ADR, expresses his concerns about the existing laws and their suitability in addressing the issue of criminalisation in politics. He highlights the exploitation of these laws by politicians who take advantage of the loopholes. He says there is an immediate need to tackle the challenge of the intertwining of criminalisation and financial power. 

“In the current political landscape, politicians and political parties often prioritise candidate selection based on their perceived “winnability.” However, this criterion solely focuses on a candidate’s ability to secure electoral victory, disregarding the means employed to achieve that victory. Unfortunately, many elections witness the use of illicit methods and unfair practices, which is a departure from the principles of genuine public service. Politics has transformed into a pursuit of power rather than a commitment to serving the public interest,” explains Chhokar.

One major concern in the realm of criminalisation of politics is the classification of political cases filed by rivals as criminal records, which raises questions about the definition and severity of a criminal record. This blurring of lines between politically motivated cases and genuine criminal offences makes it even more easier for political parties to take advantage of the loopholes in the current system. 

Political scientist Dr Sandeep Shastri sheds light on the reasons behind the increasing presence of individuals with criminal records in politics. He says that the time has come to reevaluate the definition of a criminal record. “There is an element of numbness that has got into the voters in defining and deciding whom they want to vote for, and that factor does not seem to be high on the order of their priority. This broad category of criminal records includes all types of people—even those against whom political cases filed by rivals have also been classified as a criminal record. What constitutes a criminal record in terms of the seriousness of the crime? All this must be seriously looked at. Today, voters vote keeping in mind the party label and not keeping in mind the candidate label. So, most people don’t look at the profile of a candidate, but they are looking at the profile of the political party. In my view, the combination of the above factors has led to those with criminal records being voted to the legislature,” states Shastri.

Despite repeated calls for electoral reforms and transparency in the political system, the issue of criminalisation of politics continues to plague India’s democratic landscape. The rampant nomination of candidates with criminal backgrounds not only undermines the principles of democracy but also erodes public trust in the electoral process. The lack of political will and loopholes in existing laws have allowed this alarming trend to persist. The time for comprehensive electoral reforms is long overdue, and failure to address the persistent issue of criminalisation of politics poses a grave threat to the very fabric of Indian democracy.

criminalisation of politics essay

Criminalization of Politics

Recently, the Indian Supreme Court published some necessary mandates to avert the criminalisation of politics as many lawsuits have been withdrawn against MPs ( Members of Parliament ) and MLAs (Members of Legislative Assembly) in the past. So to curb this, the Apex court in India declared that a criminal lawsuit against a Member of Parliament or Member of Legislative Assembly can get withdrawn merely after obtaining the approval of the State High Court involved.

In another instance, the Supreme Court published a few measures to eliminate the criminalisation from lawmakers. Keep reading the article below to know more about the criminalisation of politics UPSC concepts that can help you better prepare for your upcoming IAS exam.

Learn about major 25 Important Supreme Court Judgements for UPSC and related notes in the linked article.

What do we mean by the criminalisation of politics?

The criminalisation of politics implies the increasing involvement of criminals and individuals with criminal charges in Indian politics. In addition, this term means people coming from criminal backgrounds and becoming politicians and elected delegates.

Furthermore, as per Section 8 of the Indian Representative of People Act, any individual imprisoned for a term of more than 2 years cannot file as a candidate in elections until 6 years of his release from jail. However, due to the prevailing criminalisation of politics in India, this provision is not effective in practical life.

Understanding the Causes of Criminalisation in Politics

The most significant cause of the criminalisation of politics is the profane relationship between bureaucracy and politicians.

This unwanted and destructive connection between bureaucracy and political managers increased the scope of the criminalisation of politics. Religion and caste are both accountable for the criminalisation of politics. Also, in bureaucracy, there are specific approaches and regulations for promotion. However, religion and caste both meddle in this procedure, and in numerous Indian states, less competent people get a chance to serve as public servants and in politics.

Also, refer to the following links:

What are Some Reasons for the Criminalisation of Politics in India?

Here are some of the top reasons for the criminalisation of politics in India.

The political parties have massive expenses for elections and other pursuits to get higher votes and gain power. In addition, a politician’s connection with the constituency delivers a suitable climate to political corruption and criminality.

Corruption further plays a crucial role in fostering the criminalisation of politics. By bribing people from a criminal background, one can corrupt the entire system to gain power and political dominance.

  • Lack of governance

In our country, at the time of contesting elections, there is usually a lack of governance. In addition, given this lack of governance, there is usually no true plan, and no one follows proper procedures set for fighting fair elections.

  • Narrow Self-interests

Publicising the complete criminal history of election nominees fielded by different political parties may not be reasonable. A significant group of Indian voters tends to vote through a constrained lens of society interests like religion or caste.

What are some Consequences of the Criminalisation of Politics?

Below are some repercussions of the criminalisation of politics.

  • The existence of individuals with criminal backgrounds in Indian politics and the nation’s law-making holds adverse consequences on the quality of the country’s democracy.
  • Tremendous portions of unlawful funds pour into the electoral cycle due to comprehensive connections with the unlawful underworld.
  • The criminalisation of Indian politics holds the effect of restricting the procedure of righteousness and causing further uncertainties in trials.
  • Offenders entering Indian politics further boosts crime in public life. It negatively affects the state organisations, including the executive, bureaucracy, legislature, and courts.
  • The criminalisation of politics presents a culture of violence in the community and exemplifies the youth.

In a nutshell, the criminalisation of politics and corruption is striking at the origins of democracy. Therefore, it is high time that the Indian Parliament takes measures urgently to restrain this risk.

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criminalisation of politics essay

The theory and politics of criminalisation

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John Muncie argues that a critical understanding of criminalisation remains crucial

The Daily Telegraph (18 April 2008) recently ran with the headline ‘Teenage drinkers could be criminalised’. In 2007 the Chair of the Youth Justice Board resigned primarily in frustration that ‘we are criminalising more and more children and young people’ for relatively minor offences in order to meet a Home Office target of increasing the number of ‘offences brought to justice’ ( Independent on Sunday  16 September 2007). In the wake of successive anti-terrorist legislation since 2000, the organisation CAMPACC (Campaign Against Criminalising Communities) was specifically formed in order to oppose the criminalisation of association with political organisations and to protect the civil liberties of those communities considered to be a ‘threat’ to public safety.

In each of these cases a concept of criminalisation is employed to draw attention to the way in which ‘new criminals’ can be ‘created’ through police targeting and criminal justice law reform. In the throes of a government that has legislated in this area more in the past decade than in the whole of the previous century, the idea of criminalisation has begun to take a firmer hold in some sections of the popular, media, and political imagination. Of note have been attempts to ‘criminalise conduct’ through hate crime and anti-social behaviour legislation. Recognition of processes of criminalisation is, however, far from new. In the nineteenth century the penal reformer, Bentham, for example, argued that certain social reactions to crime—the unreformed prison, for example—were more likely to promote offending than curtail it. Mayhew, the social commentator, considered that overzealous policing was a significant factor in the creation of juvenile delinquency in the mid nineteenth century. Such themes are now reflected in the perennial claims that prisons are ‘colleges of crime’ and that the more people are treated as different, deviant, or criminal, the more likely they are to act out those roles in the future (for example, in the way ASBOs are considered not to deter but to be ‘badges of honour’).

Interaction, social reaction and labelling

The concept of criminalisation, however, has a deeper and more precise theoretical legacy. Formative traces can be found in an interactionist school of sociology of the 1930s. Tannenbaum (1938), for example, argued that deviance, rather than being a self-evident behavioural entity, could only be created through a process of social interaction. While a majority commit deviant acts, only a minority come to be known as deviant. The known deviant is then targeted, identified, defined, and treated as such, even though their behaviour may be no different to those who have not been so identified. As a result, certain people ‘become deviant’ through the imposition of social judgments on their behaviour: they become the essence of what is being complained of. This approach underlined the importance of viewing rules and regulations, not as consensual ‘givens’, but as sites of negotiation and dispute. In the 1950s Lemert (1951) further developed this approach by distinguishing between primary and secondary deviation. He argued that primary deviance is often a temporary transgression in which perpetrators have no conception of themselves as deviant. Secondary deviance is created through the reaction of others to the initial deviance. Through namecalling, stereotyping and labelling, a deviant identity is established and confirmed. Often deviants resolve this personal crisis by accepting their deviant status and by reorganising their lives accordingly. They become more susceptible to criminalisation. In these ways the rigid separation of what constitutes the deviant and the conformist; the criminal and noncriminal was called into question.

‘Deviance is not a property inherent in certain forms of behaviour; it is a property conferred upon these forms by the audiences which directly or indirectly witness them. Sociologically, then, the critical variable in the study of deviance is the social audience, rather than the individual person … ’ Kai T. Erikson (1962) Notes on the Sociology of Deviance .

The concept of criminalisation eventually found its feet in the formulation of social reaction theory and labelling in the 1960s. For the American sociologist Becker, the key to understanding the origins of deviance lay in the reactions of a social audience, rather than in the behaviour of individual actors themselves. Deviance was no longer viewed simply as a pathological act that violated consensual norms, but as something created through microlevel interactions between rule violator and rule enforcer. This process ensures that some people who commit deviant acts come to be known as deviants, whereas others do not. A number of ethnographic studies were also published in the 1960s and 1970s which revealed the processes of becoming a marijuana smoker, a prostitute, a homosexual, a prisoner and so on. In each it was the stigma attached to the label that was considered pivotal in informing future behaviour patterns. Becker (1963) argued that when defined as ‘outsiders’, it is such groups that come to epitomise what is considered to be criminal. A selffulfilling prophecy ensues. Criminality is continually sought only in those identified as criminal. And the power of the label of ‘criminal’ ensures that ‘criminal careers’ are exacerbated. This refocusing of criminology dramatically shifted attention from the behaviours of those commonly thought to constitute a problem for society to those who conceive those behaviours as problems. Lemert's (1967) conclusion that social control causes deviancy was a crucial turning point in the politicisation of the sociology of deviance. For many, social reaction and labelling effectively began the process of politicising the study of deviance, crime and social control.

‘Deviance may be conceived as a process by which the members of a group, community, or society (1) interpret behavior as deviant, (2) define persons who so behave as a certain kind of deviant and (3) accord them the treatment considered appropriate to such deviants’. John Kitsuse (1962) Societal Reaction to Deviant Behavior.

Critical imagination

Social reaction and labelling clearly opened up new lines of critical enquiry by posing definitional rather than behavioural questions—‘who defines another as deviant?’; ‘why are some behaviours and not others defined as deviant?’; ‘who has the power to define another as deviant?’; and ‘how are deviant roles subsequently adopted and played out?’ To address such questions it was necessary not only to begin to study how rules and laws were created, but to ask in whose interests they were enforced. Attention was drawn to the complex process by which moral entrepreneurs and agencies of social and crime control are able to realise the public identification of certain people as criminal; how social reaction and labelling produce and reproduce a recognisable criminal population. This ‘politicisation of criminology’ was indeed a logical extension of the critical questioning of social science and its role in research, teaching and policy making that had emerged at the time. Political developments growing out of the American civil rights campaigns, anti-Vietnam war movements and the radicalisation of student and countercultures had a direct impact on many academic disciplines and their role in defending the status quo. C. Wright Mills challenged the whole notion of scientific neutrality in academic research and Becker himself latterly brought such questioning directly into criminology by asking social scientists: ‘Whose side are you on?’ Mainstream criminology was charged with lending the state a spurious legitimacy and functioning as little more than a justification for oppressive power. This was the beginning of a critical criminological imagination in which questions of political and social control took precedence over behavioural and correctional issues. Central was an expose of the ‘power to criminalise’ through the systematic and consistent empowerment of some groups and the criminalisation of others.

‘Deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an ‘offender’. The deviant is one to whom that label has successfully been applied; deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label’ Howard Becker (1963) Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance.

Today the classic statements of social reaction and labelling are widely employed in most undergraduate sociological criminology courses. Yet 40 years ago they marked a radical departure in criminological (or rather more typically then ‘sociology of deviance’) studies. By drawing attention to the role of social reaction (and law enforcement in particular) they warn of the ways in which criminal justice may cause that which it is designed to curtail. A critical understanding of criminalisation remains crucial in radicalising a discipline that in many of its guises simply seems to be content with being an adjunct of, and in collusion with, state agencies. Social reaction and labelling marked the first step in understanding why and how only certain troubling behaviours and acts are subject to criminalisation and why a host of other more serious social harms (such as workplace death and injury; illegal arms dealings; corporate frauds, state sponsored torture and so on) appear to be routinely practised with impunity or rarely considered as core elements of the ‘crime problem’. These insights still retain their original power to challenge the politics of law and order and expose the processes of selective criminalisation. Perhaps for this reason they remain routinely ignored or dismissed by those of a more conservative, technocratic or administrative persuasion.

‘This is a large turn away from older sociology which tended to rest heavily upon the idea that deviance leads to social control. I have come to believe that the reverse idea, ie., social control leads to deviance, is equally tenable and the potentially richer premise for studying deviance in modern society’ Edwin Lemert (1967) Human Deviance, Social Problems and Social Control.

John Muncie is Professor of Criminology at the Open University

Becker, H. (1963) Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance , New York: Free Press.

Erikson, K. T. (1962) ‘Notes on the sociology of deviance’. Social Problems, 9: 307–314.

Kitsuse, J. (1962) ‘Societal reaction to deviant behaviour’. Social Problems , 9: 247–56.

Lemert, E. (1951) Social Pathology, New York: McGraw-Hill.

Lemert, E. (1967) Human Deviance, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Social Problems and Social Control.

Tannenbaum, F. (1938) Crime and the Community, New York: Colombia University Press.

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Criminalization of Politics in India: Causes, Effects, Measures

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The rising percentage of members of parliament who have a criminal background: 2004 – 24%, 2009 – 30%, 2014 – 34% and 2019 -43%. Around 50% of MPs in the new Lok Sabha have criminal records. This increasing number of members with criminal records in parliament endangers the survival of any true democracy. In this article, you will learn everything about the criminalisation of politics viz- what, why, causes, consequences, measures, challenges, solutions, and also the verdict of SC regarding criminal politics.

criminalisation of politics essay

This topic of “Criminalization of Politics in India: Causes, Effects, Measures” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination , which falls under General Studies Portion.

What is the Criminalisation of Politics?

The criminalisation of politics refers to the increasing participation of criminals in the electoral process and selection of the same as elected representatives of the people.

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What is the status of Criminal Politics in India?

Criminals_in_politics - UPSC IAS

  • The criminalisation of politics is one of the primary concerns in India as many politicians facing charges of murder, corruption , abduction, and rape continue to be legislators.
  • Around 1/3 rd the members of the current parliament have criminal cases filed against them.
  • Data suggests that voters don’t mind electing candidates facing criminal cases.

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How did Indian politics become criminalized?

Muscle power:.

  • Muscle power has been ingrained into Indian politics for a very long time.
  • Many politicians are thriving today based on muscle power provided by criminals.
  • Such politicians chose muscle power in order to gain a vote bank in the country.

Money Power:

  • It is a well-accepted fact that huge election costs are the major cause of corruption in India.
  • A candidate spends lakhs of rupees to get elected and even if he gets elected, the total salary he gets during his term as a legislator will be meager compared to his election expenses.
  • However, criminal activities help in generating a huge amount of money to fund the elections.

Loopholes in the functioning of elections:

The voters are generally not aware of the history of the candidate, qualifications, and cases pending against him.

Weak Judicial System & Denial of Justice:

A huge pile of cases is pending in District courts, High Courts, and Supreme Court against these criminal cum politicians.

Why criminal politics is a grave concern?

  • It reveals the low ethical and moral values of our legislators which leads to the enactment of arbitrary and discriminatory laws.
  • Misusing executives for personal gains and undermining the law of the land.
  • The quality of candidates contesting elections is important for better governance.
  • Loss of public faith in the government as well as judiciary since courts failed to contain it.
  • It affects the efficiency of legislatures leading to poor governance.

What are the measures taken?

The Supreme Court and Election Commission of India (ECI) have taken some commendable measures to reform the electoral process as follows.

ECI’s reforms

  • ECI has achieved substantial success in controlling the role of muscle power via measures like the effective implementation of the model code of conduct and also established the Expense Monitoring Cell.
  • Mandatory declaration of assets and existing criminal charges in self-sworn affidavits to the ECI prior to elections has brought in some transparency.

The Supreme Court’s verdicts

  • Criminal records
  • Financial records
  • Educational qualifications

If the candidate fails to file any of the above three declarations, the Returning Officer will have the right to reject his nomination papers. SC ruled that all three declarations will have to be truthful.

  • SC in (Lily Thomas Vs Union of India 2013) declared that upon conviction, charge-sheeted MPs and MLAs would be disqualified with immediate effect from holding membership of the house, without being given 3 months to appeal.
  • SC in 2014 accepted the Law Commission recommendations and passed an order directing that trials against sitting MPs and MLAs should be concluded within a year of charges being framed and conducted on a day-to-day basis.
  • Some other attempts by the judiciary: prohibiting those in jail from contesting elections, directing the EC to bring the issue of election-related freebies under the ambit of the Code of Conduct, the Allahabad High Court banning caste, and religion-based political rallies.
  • Recent SC verdict: The judgement was given over the much-awaited pronouncement on the petitions asking it to prohibit politicians facing the heinous criminal charges against rape, murder, and kidnapping from contesting elections.

Centre’s measures

In 2017, the Union government started a scheme to establish 12 special courts for a year to fast-track the trial of criminal cases against 1,581 MPs and MLAs.

How effective were those measures?

  • Debarring of politicians has no effect since rates of conviction are too low and trials themselves are subject to long delays as showcased by a recent Law Commission report.
  • Many politicians are filing false affidavits about their annual income, wealth details.
  • About 90% of cases transferred to the special courts set up under the Centre’s scheme are pending as of now.

What are the key features of the  SC verdict on Criminal Politics?

Political parties.

  • SC’s Observation – The rapid criminalization of politics cannot be solved through the mere disqualification of criminal legislators. Cleaning politics from criminal elements starts only by means of purifying political parties themselves. Since political parties are the major institution of Indian democracy, they play an important role in the interface between private citizens and the government. They act as a medium through which interests and problems of the people are showcased in Parliament.
  • SC’s verdict – The Supreme Court ordered the political parties to publish the pending criminal cases of their candidates online.
  • It asked the Parliament to create a strong law in order to cleanse political parties of leaders facing trials for serious crimes.
  • Such a law should make it mandatory for political parties to remove leaders accused of “heinous and grievous” crimes.
  • Parties must reject tickets to criminal elements in both parliamentary and Assembly polls.
  • The Bench also made it clear that the court cannot make law for Parliament by providing disqualification to prohibit such candidates from contesting elections.
  • SC declared that the candidates should disclose their criminal cases against them to the Election Commission in BLOCK LETTERS as well as to their respective political parties.
  • The parties, in turn, should publish the full details of their candidate on their websites for public view.

What are the concerns with the judgement?

  • The SC has passed the burden to the ECI, although the ECI has been asking for the apex court’s aid for the past two decades.
  • Parliament is required to make a law on the matter as per Article 101 (1) of the constitution, however, Parliament regardless of who is in power has always been reluctant to legislate on the issue.
  • The bench pronounced that it is not in a position to enable disqualification of candidates who face criminal charges thus withdrawing from its responsibility to solve the issue.
  • Voters do not generally read the websites of political parties.
  • The recommendation regarding the publicity campaigns about the criminal background of candidates by political parties sounds unreasonable.
  • The definition of heinous crimes may change as per times and societal conditions.

What more could be done?

  • A law to prohibit candidates who are charged with heinous crimes will need a broad consensus across the party lines.
  • More fast-track courts to try the cases dealing with serious charges against the candidates.
  • To reduce money power,
  • To create a level playing field,
  • To enable public-spirited people to contest elections thereby ensuring equality of opportunities,
  • To break the political-corporate nexus thereby ending rent-seeking and crony capitalism.
  • To change the election’s focus towards people’s problems rather than on raising funds through illegitimate means, i.e., focus on development politics.
  • Stricter implementation of anti-corruption laws.
  • Transparency and audit mechanisms.
  • Representation of Peoples Act (RPA) needs to be amended and there should be stricter actions against serious offenders.
  • Election Commission should be given more power to deal with corruption cases.
  • Inner party democracy needs to be improved.

Supreme Court has done its part in decriminalizing Indian politics. But SC or Election Commission cannot decriminalize politics single-handed since they require support from Legislation too. Hence it is in the hands of the Parliament to frame a law that decriminalizes Indian politics effectively.

In the words of Dr. Rajendra Prasad , “A constitution like a machine is a lifeless thing. It acquires life because of the men who control it and operate it”. Therefore good and quality politicians are needed for India to become a vibrant democracy through good governance .

Practice Question:

  • The criminalization of politics is a disease that poses a grave threat to our democracy if left unchecked. Discuss the initiatives taken to check criminal politics and examine the effectiveness of those initiatives.
  • April 25, 2023: The killing of Atiq Ahmed , a notorious criminal turned politician in India, highlighted the issue of criminalization of politics in the country. Nearly 40% of the current Indian Parliament members have criminal cases pending against them, with many not feeling threatened due to the slow pace of trials.

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Holistic article,great job??

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Criminalization of Politics

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Criminalization of Politics means that the criminals entering the politics and contesting elections and even getting elected to the Parliament and state legislature. Criminalization of politics is the focus of public debate when discussion on electoral reforms takes place.

A  February 2020 Supreme Court judgement  on Criminalization in politics may have far-reaching consequences for Indian democracy. The judgment was passed in a contempt of court case filed against the Chief Election Commissioner of India. The petition claimed the ECI had failed to take any steps to ensure the implementation of a 2018 judgment of the bench, which had made it mandatory for political parties to declare and publish all criminal cases pending against their candidates.

Criminalization of Politics

Reasons why criminalization of politics still exists in India:

Corruption:

  • In every election political parties put up candidates with a criminal background.
  • Evident link between criminality and the probability of winning is further reinforced when winnability of a candidate is looked into. A candidate facing criminal charges is twice as likely to win as a clean candidate.
  • The political parties and independent candidates have astronomical expenditure for vote buying and other illegitimate purposes through these criminals.

Denial of Justice and Rule of Law:

  • Toothless laws against convicted criminals standing for elections further encourage this process. Under current law, only people who have been convicted at least on two counts be debarred from becoming candidates. This leaves the field open for charge sheeted criminals, many of whom are habitual offenders or history-sheeters.
  • Constitution does not specify what disqualifies an individual from contesting in an election to a legislature.
  • It is the Representation of People Act which specifies what can disqualify an individual from contesting an election. The law does not bar individuals who have criminal cases pending against them from contesting elections

Lack of governance:

  • The root of the problem lies in the country’s poor governance capacity.

Scarcity of state capacity :

  • The scarcity of state capacity is the reason for the public preferring ‘strongmen’ who can employ the required pulls and triggers to get things done.
  • Criminality, far from deterring voters, encourages them because it signals that the candidate is capable of fulfilling his promises and securing the interests of the constituency.
  • No political party is free of this problem. The use of muscle power along with money power is a weapon used by all political parties to maximize electoral gains.
  • With cases dragging in courts for years, a disqualification based on conviction becomes ineffective.  Low conviction rates in such cases compounds the problem; voters don’t mind electing candidates facing criminal cases.
  • Voter behavior then emboldens political parties to give tickets to such candidates who can win an election on their ticket etc. 

Landmark judgments pertaining to criminalization of Politics:

  • The Supreme Court has taken a timely decision by agreeing to hear a plea from the Election Commission of India (ECI) to direct political parties to not field candidates with criminal antecedents
  • The immediate provocation is the finding that 46% of Members of Parliament have criminal records.
  • While the number might be inflated as many politicians tend to be charged with relatively minor offences — “unlawful assembly” and “defamation” — the real worry is that the current cohort of Lok Sabha MPs has the highest (29%) proportion of those with serious declared criminal cases compared to its recent predecessors.
  • The Supreme Court has come up with a series of landmark judgments on addressing this issue .
  • It removed the statutory protection of convicted legislators from immediate disqualification in 2013, and in 2014, directed the completion of trials involving elected representatives within a year.
  • In 2017, it asked the Centre to frame a scheme to appoint special courts to exclusively try cases against politicians, and for political parties to publicize pending criminal cases faced by their candidates in 2018.
  • But these have not been a deterrent to legislators with dubious credentials. Perhaps what would do the trick is a rule that disallows candidates against whom charges have been framed in court for serious offences, but this is something for Parliament to consider as an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
  • This denouement, however, is still a pie in the sky given the composition of the Lower House with a number of representatives facing serious cases.

RPA Criminalization of politics:

  • Currently, under the Representation of Peoples (RP) Act, lawmakers cannot contest elections only after their conviction in a criminal case.
  • Section 8 of the Representation of the People (RP) Act, 1951 disqualifies a person convicted with a sentence of two years or more from contesting elections. But those under trial continued to be eligible to contest elections. The Lily Thomas case (2013), however, ended this unfair advantage.

Challenges:

  • Election Commission has limited powers to legislate on such laws.
  • Public opinion too is not firm on the issue.
  • A survey found that opinion was divided when people were asked whether they would vote for an honest candidate who may not get their work done, or a tainted candidate who could get their work done.
  • While political parties raise concern about candidates with a tainted background contesting elections, none of them come forward to set an example for others when it is time to act.
  • In the present criminal justice system, it takes years, probably decades, to complete the trial against a politician.
  • Those with political influence have taken full advantage by delaying hearings, obtaining repeated adjournments and filing innumerable interlocutory petitions to stall any progress.
  • They also engage in corruption and infect the bureaucracy and the police.

Way Forward: 

  • Law panel report bats for using the time of the framing of charges to initiate disqualification as an appropriate measure to curb the criminalization of politics.
  • Political parties should themselves refuse tickets to the tainted.
  • The RPA Act should be amended to debar persons against whom cases of a heinous nature are pending from contesting elections.
  • Bringing greater transparency in campaign financing is going to make it less attractive for political parties to involve gangsters
  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) should have the power to audit the financial accounts of political parties, or political parties’ finances should be brought under the right to information (RTI) law
  • Broader governance will have to improve for voters to reduce the reliance on criminal politicians.
  • Fast-track courts are necessary because politicians are able to delay the judicial process and serve for decades before prosecution.
  • The Election Commission must take adequate measures to break the nexus between the criminals and the politicians.
  • The forms prescribed by the Election Commission for candidates disclosing their convictions, cases pending in courts and so on in their nomination papers is a step in the right direction if it applied properly.
  • Addressing the entire value chain of the electoral system will be the key to solving the puzzle of minimizing criminal elements from getting elected to our legislatures. This process would involve sensitizing the electorate about the role and responsibility of the elected representatives.
  • Political parties will have to be encouraged to have stronger inner party democracy to attract this new set of leaders to join the party. And finally, our judicial system will have to be overhauled drastically to ensure that justice is dispensed swiftly in all cases.

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Criminalization of politics: nature, causes and recent developments.

criminalisation of politics essay

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Criminalization of Politics: Nature, Causes and Recent Developments!

Definition and Nature:

At present we very often come across the words criminalisation of politics. The meaning of the term is quite known to educated people and newspaper readers. For academic purposes a definition is to be given here. When politics or political power is used by self-interest-seeking persons for pecuniary gains or various other advantages such as to get special position in administration or to rise to the higher stage of administration which is normally not feasible.

So criminalisation of politics means to use politics or political power for nefarious gains. To gain something not legal or normal has been called crime. Here the word crime is used in politics in special sense. For example an officer in administration wants to be promoted to higher post. But this is not his due.He uses politics or political power to achieve this. The person succeeds. But the matter does not stop here. The person who helped to get undue privilege will again use this person tor the achievement of his purposes which are, in normal course, not due. This is the policy of give-and-take and this happens behind the curtain.

Hence we find that political power has been or is being used by some persons for the attainment of undue privileges and when this is rampant in the arena of politics we generally call it criminalisation of politics. To get undue favour through the use of political power is a crime. The term crime means an action which constitutes a serious offence against an individual or the state and is punishable by law. Hence gaining something by the use of political power is a crime and is also punishable.

The use of politics or political power is not something new. Even in ancient Greece politics was used by people for personal gains or for rising to a higher stage of power. The misuse or abuse of political power greatly pained Greek philosopher Plato (BC 427-347). That is why he thought of a philosopher-king and introduction of communism in property and family.

He meant that the members of the administrative class will have no private property and family. Plato’s argument was-these two will divert the attention of the members of the ruling class and will corrupt them. He also thought that if the king is a philosopher he will feel no personal attachment to property and wealth. Plato built up this model for the construction of his ideal state. Our point is the mismanagement of the contemporary city-states which were democratic pained him.

Rousseau (1712-1778) was a great admirer of democracy, but he was quite apprehensive of its real existence. He thought that people are corrupt and this will lead to the fall of democracy. That is why we find him saying: were there a people of gods, their government would be democratic. So perfect a form of government is not for men.

Even in Rousseau’s time there were great inequalities of property and wealth. Some people earned property and built up wealth through unfair means and this created un-equalities in wealth and power. So wealth was used to get patronage in political arena and political power was also used to get wealthy.

Causes of Criminalisation of Politics:

The most important cause of criminalisation of politics is the unholy nexus between politicians and bureaucracy. Ramchandra Guha (India after Gandhi) says, “In Jawaharlal Nehru’s time the civil service was shielded from politics, transfers, promotions and the like were decided within the executive branch itself. From the 1970s, however, individual bureaucrats came increasingly to ally with individual politicians or political parties. When the party they allied with was in power, they get the best postings. In return, they energetically implemented the partisan agenda of the politicians”.

This undesirable and dangerous relationship between bureaucracy and political leaders opened the door of criminalisation of politics. The great founders of Indian nation-state thought of an independent bureaucracy. But within two decades of freedom their hope and dream shattered. Both came to an understanding to help each other and this led to the criminalisation of politics.

The interference of politicians in the administration may be regarded as another reason of criminalisation of politics. Guha’s says, “In a letter to the prime minister, the retired civil servant M. N. Buch has highlighted the consequences of this politicisation of the administration. The way the government is now run means that the disciplinary hierarchy of the civil services has completely broken down. A subordinate who does not measure up and pulled up by his superior knows that he can approach a politician, escape the consequences for his own misdeeds and cause the harm to his superior”

In the 1970s this started in embryonic form and today this has assumed an epidemic. Most of the politicians of modern India interfere with administration in one form or another. The civil servants are becoming more and more corrupt, so also the politicians. The net result is politics is, ultimately, criminalised.

Caste and religion both are equally responsible for the criminalisation of politics. In bureaucracy there are certain fixed procedures and rules in the promotion. But caste and religion both interfere in this process. Less qualified and inefficient civil servants get promotion. The quota system is fully responsible. It has been found that a minister of a particular caste or religion will distribute favour to the members of his own caste and religion. In many states of India this is found.

The system of party government is also responsible for the criminalisation of politics. On the eve of general election the leaders of the party give promises to the electorate. The purpose is to win the election. If the party luckily comes to power, the members of the ruling party try to implement the promises. The dark side of this situation is the party in power does not consider the feasibility and rationality of the action or promises unreasonable and impractical ways and techniques are adopted. This is a cause of criminalisation of politics.

In post-independent India strong public opinion against corrupt practices has not developed. Each person knows that that system or practice is corrupt. But there is nobody to protest against it. Rather, he thinks that this is the system and he accepts it. This tendency has finally opened the door of the criminalisation of politics. But if anybody objects to the corrupt practice he is either penalised or deprived of his due.

Un-development, illiteracy, poverty and prismatic nature of Indian social system are collectively responsible for the criminalisation of politics. The shrewd and self-interest-seeking politicians —in collaboration with corrupt civil servants — adopt various types of unfair means to satisfy their greediness and ill-motives. The Indian society is in transition. From various sources the government of India is getting funds for development.

The government also spends huge amount of money through Five Year Plans. A large amount of money is laundered by politician and bureaucrats. There is a close alliance between the two and this has led to the worst type of criminalisation of politics.

We again remember Plato. He thought that for an ideal state the citizens must be deal and tor that purpose he thought establishing values, morality and idealism in the society. We have forgotten Plato and also the importance of values morality, ethics etc. This has downgraded the importance of moral values, ethics honesty etc.

People generally think of immediate pecuniary gains and give top priority to all these. We, therefore, think that decline of general values has led to the criminalisation of politics. The ghost of Machiavelli has returned. But people have forgot that Machiavelli’s suggestion was made in the background of the pitiable condition of Italy.

In the election of 2005 investigation about the criminal activities of candidates contesting- the election was made and the survey reveals the following figures:

Election Survey

Many political parties of India fielded candidates who had criminal cases against them. Some of these candidates also won in elections. Two points may be made here. One is—the parties fielded the candidates who had criminal background. It means that the parties do not give due importance to this black spot.

The simple implication is that the criminal activities of candidates are not important. The other is that the voters have helped these candidates to win. While exercising franchise it is the duty of the voters to take information about the candidates. We, therefore, conclude that both voters and parties are equally responsible for the criminalisation of politics.

Corruption and crime both have engulfed our MPs. They raise questions in parliament in exchange of money. A few years ago our parliament was in storm on this issue.

Here a part of a newspaper reporting:

“A TV sting operation caught 11 MPs. 6 MPs from BJP, 3 MPs from BSP, one RJD MP and one Congress MR All of them took bribe as ranging from Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 1,10,000 for raising question in parliament. The law-makers were taking paltry amount to subvert the country’s highest democratic institution. The MPs asked questions in Parliament for cash” — Times of India, Kolkata edition, 13.12.2005.

It is a disgrace on the part of the members of the highest democratic institution of our country. This is really a disgrace on the part of the members of parliament. These MPs are law-makers and these laws are implemented to make society crime-free. But the law-makers are themselves parts of criminal activities.

Indian bureaucracy is also highly corrupted. From, the reports published in newspapers we come to know that the top bureaucrats build up fortune of crores of rupees within the first few years of their service. From various sources they get money. The businessmen give bribe to get out-of-the-way benefit. Ordinary people also give bribe to the officers to get quick service. Behind all sorts of corruption there is politics. We can say politics has criminalised everything and the administration tops the list. When both politics and administration are corrupt nothing can remain outside it.

Recent Development in Criminalisation of Politics :

Persons can’t fight from Jail :

The apex court of India in a judgment on July 11, 2013 declared that persons in jail or police custody cannot contest elections to legislative bodies. The order was passed by the Supreme Court along with the landmark verdict that MPs, MLAs and MLCs would be disqualified the day they were convicted. This double whammy against the criminals in Indian legislatures is expected to go a long way in cleaning up politics.

The Supreme Court bench of Justices A. K. Patnayak and S. j. Mukhopadhyaya ruled only an elector can contest the polls and he/she forfeits the right to vote during imprisonment or in police custody. The court based its order on provisions of the Representation of People’s Act. Sections 4 and 5 of the Act lay down that in order to be elected to parliament or state legislatures one must be an elector.

The bench also referred to Section 62(5) of the Act. which says no person shall vote at any election if he is confined in a prison whether under a sentence of imprisonment or transportation or otherwise or in a lawful custody of the police. The apex court also took notice of the fact that crimes in politic have risen from 128 to 162 between 2004 and 2009.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday (10.07.13) struck down a provision in the electoral law that protects the convicted law-maker from disqualification on the ground of pendency of appeal in the higher courts. The highest court also made it clear that MPs, MLAs and MLCs will stand disqualified on the date of conviction. The Court said parliament had exceeded its powers by enacting the provision Section 8(4) of the Representation of People’s Act that gives a convicted law-maker the power to remain in office on the ground that appeals have been filed and decision is pending. But the bench of Justices A. K Patnaik and S.J. Mukhopadhayay, in its 41 page ruling, clarified that convicted law-makers, whose appeals were pending prior to their verdict, were saved as it would come into effect prospectively.

The following figures show the miserable condition of criminalisation of politics in India. The two NGOs have collected information. They are Association for Democratic Rights (ADR) and National Election Watch (NEW). Our Lok Sabha has 543 members out of this 30% or 162 members have criminal cases against them. 14% members of the Lok Sabha have serious criminal cases against them. The total number of all state Legislatures in 4032. Out of this 1258 members have criminal cases against them. It is 31% of the total number.

Again 14% have serious criminal cases against them. The 2009 Lok Sabha had 450 tainted faces out of 543 members. These figures show beyond any shadow of doubt that large numbers of our law-makers have tainted faces. These tainted law-makers are engaged in making law to make society free from corruption and all sorts of criminal activities.

The study of ADR and NEW also shows that almost all the national parties are indirectly encouraging or supporting criminal activities of their members or law-makers. Behind this both money and muscle power is directly involved According to ADR and National Election watch (NEW) the criminal activities of the members of national parties are really beyond imagination. More pathetic condition is the national and regional parties are absolutely indifferent. Not only members of the legislatures are tainted, the ministers fall in the same category. The Chief Minister of constituent state is convicted on the ground of embezzlement of public money and other charges.

The judgment of the Supreme Court has thrown both national and regional parties into bewilderment. Behind the criminalisation of politics there are muscle power and money power and these two powers are primarily responsible for all sorts of criminal activities of politicians. If the judgment of the highest Court is implemented most of the parties will face severe crisis-crisis of existence.

The purpose of the Supreme court is to free Indian politics from crimes and the recent judgment aims at this. The Election Commission for pretty long time has been demanding the amendment of Representation of People’s Act. After the judgment of the Supreme court the stand of the Election Commission will be strengthened.

Regulatory Commission:

The Independent Regulatory Commission is an important weapon at the hands of the administration to control the economic and other activities of the various service providers. The system of constituting Independent Regulatory Commis­sion was first introduced in USA. The chief aim was to control the private enterprises which provide all sorts of public utility services.

The private organisations also control major parts and aspects of both state and federal administration. In fact in USA, the federal government plays minimum role in administrative system and in providing various services. Because of this the American government felt the necessity of regulating the activities of the private organisations that provide services. In India there are also Independent Regula­tory Commissions. In recent years the necessity of setting up of such commissions has increased several times.

The reasons are:

(1) Since India is a welfare and socialism-biased state its role in providing various types of services for the general welfare of people has enormously increased. On proper and regular investigation it has been found that there is a gap between the aims of service providers and the persons getting services. It means that the aims of the authority which provides service remain unful­filled-at least substantially. This is undesirable. In order to locate the faults and the responsibility of persons or authority the necessity of setting up of regulatory commission was felt.

(2) Indian administrative system more or less belongs to the Open Model of public administration because outside factors are influencing administration and policy-making activities of the government. It is unavoidable. How the outside influences or openness of environment are regulating the manner of people is to be ascertained.

The authority must know how the outside influences are creating problems or crises for the people. For that purpose the setting up of regulatory commission was felt. India as a part of the world system cannot stay outside It. Naturally outside forces must influence India’s economy, politics, social system and administration. The regulatory commission will enable the state authority to have a clear knowledge of the prevailing situation.

(3) In the economic system of India the private economy and enterprise have crucial and important role. In India there is a system of private property. It is the duty of administration-both central and state-to see that the private economy and private property system are working and if they are adversely affecting the interests of the citizens. Particularly for the purpose the necessity of regulatory commission has been felt.

(4) The industrialisation, urbanisation and at the same time, the unprec­edented growth of social mobility very often create problems for ordinary citizens and sometimes make them helpless. These also create problems for administra­tion. It is the duty of a responsible government, with the aim of ensuring welfare, to see that the citizens are not deprived of their legitimate due and other privileges. This has led to the setting up of regulatory commissions.

(5) In USA the regulatory commission is a normal feature of public admin­istration. There is a market economy. The economic issues are determined by the market forces. On experience it has been found that this may invite onslaught on the basic interests of citizens. As it happened during the Great Depression of 1930s.

The government was forced to interfere with the market forces. In India the national economy and property system are considerably regulated by the acts and laws of the central government. In spite of this there is ample scope of private economy to act independently. In this situation there has arisen the necessity of regulatory commission and the administrative system of India has done that job.

(6) One important feature of market economy is that the profit motive of the entrepreneurs is extremely active and this motive neglects the interests of the consumers. Naturally it is expected that the government must have enough control over the activities of private enterprises. If this does not happen the basic interests of the ordinary citizens will be affected.

(7) The developmental process of India is in transition. Many people call India a prismatic society. Social and economic situations are rapidly changing. A major part of the population is vulnerable to all these vicissitudes. Since the citizens are not capable to fight this situation a regulatory system is badly needed. Moreover, the self-interest-seeking persons may exploit the situation. And, gener­ally, this happens. For this reason it is the duty of the government to have precautionary measures so that the life, liberty and property of citizens remain safe.

(8) Finally, with the rise of industrial development and general progress of society, the citizens will face more and more problems and the scope of insecurity will be on the rise. A responsible government with people’s mandate to govern cannot remain a helpless out-looker when the citizens are facing problems.

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Home > Daily-current-affairs

Daily-current-affairs / 16 Jan 2022

Criminalization of Politics : Daily Current Affairs

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Relevance: GS-2, Governance, Elections and its procedure

Key phrases: Representation of the People Act of 1951, Muscle Power, Red Tapism, Vote Bank Politics, intra-party democracy, Justice Delivery, Law Commission 244th Report, 2nd ARC

Why in News?

  • Supreme Court has asked the Centre whether it was “willing” to favor a lifetime ban on contesting elections for people convicted of offences.
  • Government has rejected the idea of a lifetime ban on convicted persons contesting elections or becoming an office-bearer of a political party citing reason that MPs and MLAs were not bound by specific “service conditions”.
  • The government had maintained that disqualification under the Representation of the People Act of 1951 for the period of prison sentence and six years thereafter was enough for legislators.
  • Supreme Court also remarked that the Allahabad High Court misinterpreted the Top Court's order by not creating Magisterial Courts for trying cases against MPs/MLAs and by designating only Sessions Courts for such purposes.

Causes of Criminalization of Politics

  • Success rate of Politician: Political parties give tickets to candidates on the basis of their ability to win. The chances of winning for a candidate with declared criminal cases in the Lok Sabha 2019 was 15.5 percent whereas for a candidate with a clean background, it was just 4.7 percent.
  • As per ADR website, in 2019 out of 539 candidates analysed , 43% have declared criminal cases against them . Out of the 542 MPs analyzed during Lok Sabha elections in 2014, 185 (34 percent) winners had declared criminal cases against themselves while during Lok Sabha elections in 2009, 30 percent had declared criminal cases against themselves. Hence there is a clear 44% increase in candidates with declared criminal cases against them.
  • Corruption and Red Tapism: corruption and red-tapism in the bureaucracy and government have led to the development of a nexus between bureaucrats, politicians, police officers, criminals, and the corporates. All these ultimately aid the people with a criminal background to enter politics.
  • The social divisions on the basis of caste and religion etc., and the inability of authorities to act promptly in case of social tensions have reduced the faith of people on democratic institutions.
  • This creates a breeding ground for the strongmen to gain popularity and hold on the people of their own community.
  • Lack of intra-party democracy: In India, there is a lack of intra-party democracy, and the top leadership takes the decision on the candidates contesting elections. Thus politicians with criminal records are able to escape the scrutiny of the ground level workers and organization of the party.
  • Poor Conviction Rate: In India, the level of conviction of MPs and MLAs with criminal records have been very low. Low level of convictions and the delays in the trials does not deter the political party to give tickets to candidates with a criminal background.
  • However, the candidates often give wrong details and the Election commission is unable to take any action against them. Impacts of criminalization of politics
  • Negative Impacts on the Quality of Democracy: Presence of legislatures with criminal background negatively impacts the lawmaking power of Parliament and state legislatures. It is like a dent on democracy and negatively impacts the quality of democracy.
  • Obstructing the Process of Justice Delivery: The criminalization of politics obstructs the process of justice and causes delays in trials. Criminals after getting into the position of power misuse it for or getting away with their crimes and offences.
  • Increases Corruption: The criminalization of politics increases corruption in public life, creates a nexus of criminal, politician, and bureaucracy. All these have negative impacts on the state institutions such as the legislature, executive and the judiciary.
  • Violence in Society: It leads to a culture of violence in society. For example, the level of political violence in West Bengal has created bad precedence for the youth of the state.
  • Illegal Money Flow into the Electoral Process: The criminalization of politics promotes the flow of illegal money into the electoral process and negatively impacts the security of the people and the nation.

Measures to Curb Criminalization of Politics:

  • Section 125A of the Representation of Peoples Act: The Act should be amended, in order to provide more stringent punishment for concealing or providing wrong information in Form 26 under the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 to a minimum term of two years’ imprisonment.
  • Law Commission 244th Report recommended:
  • With the retroactive application, all persons with pending criminal charges that are punishable by more than 5 years to be disqualified subject to certain safeguards.
  • Punishment of 2 years for filing a false affidavit under section 125A . A conviction under this should be made a ground for disqualification.
  • Bringing greater transparency in campaign financing is going to make it less attractive for political parties to involve gangsters.
  • Union of India vs. Association for Democratic Reforms and Anr case, 2002: Supreme Court ruled that every candidate contesting election has to declare his criminal and financial records along with educational qualification.
  • Ramesh Dalal vs. Union of India case, 2005: Supreme Court ruled that a sitting Member of Parliament or any Member of state legislative assembly will be disqualified from contesting the election if convicted and sentenced for imprisonment for two years or more by a court of law.
  • Accordingly, MLAs and MPs would be disqualified immediately if convicted and sentenced for two or more years. However, in 2017, the union government informed the supreme court that if the appellate court stays the conviction, the MLAs and MPs would be allowed to continue.

Way forward:

  • The criminalization of politics and corruption hits the roots of democracy. There should be wide publicity of the candidates with criminal records, who are contesting in an election and the political parties that give them support.
  • There is a need to bring greater transparency in the campaign financing of political parties. The political parties must be brought under the Right to Information Act to improve their transparency and accountability.
  • The Parliament should enact a law dealing with increased criminalization of politics. Further, of courts dealing with sitting legislators would be crucial for the decriminalization of politics.
  • The suggestions of Law Commission , Supreme Court and Election Commission needs to be implemented for cleansing the Parliament and state legislatures from people with a criminal background.

Sources: The Hindu , Deccan Herald , Times of India

Mains Question:

Q. Present Politics is suffering from criminalization, in this respect discuss the increasing trend of criminalization of politics with its causes and its impacts. Also state steps taken to decriminalize it?

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criminalisation of politics essay

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Yet for all the scale and diversity, this election is in effect a plebiscite on one man. At 73, Modi has held the top Indian office for a decade already. In fact, Modi has continuously held high public office since the opening years of this century. First as the chief minister of the commercially powerful western state of Gujarat from 2001, moving to the most powerful office in 2014. It was Modi in 2014 who scripted a mandate for his BJP that committed India’s government to Hindu nationalism. His subsequent and even bigger mandate in 2019 began to overtly legislate for a Hindu-first India.   

In the immediate run-up to the elections, Modi – who has not held a press conference in a decade – made himself available to select global and Indian media for carefully curated interviews. From the US magazine Newsweek to India’s largest news agency, Asia News International, in print and on screen, Modi has asserted his certitude of his victory in a serious and deliberate tone, claiming the remaking of India as his personal mission.  

Nothing less than the identity of India is at stake in this election. Modi’s vision is that of a new India – or a return to its older name of Bharat, which he seeks to popularise (or even institute as the country’s official name). Even as this proposal projects notions of civilisational grandeur or a long-gone golden age, it hints at a future in which global status games and an exclusionary national culture dominate. 

In fuelling such debates, Modi and his BJP are consciously signalling a new political, economic and global vision for India. Analysts and critics often describe India under Modi as an “illiberal democracy”, even an “electoral autocracy” that is in effect a “majoritarian” democracy in action. Neither quite captures the wholesale transformation of the country – rather than merely a style of rule – that is underway. In short, if modern China could give the world capitalism without democracy, could India be on the verge of giving the world a one-party state in a multi-party polity? 

In May 2023, Modi inaugurated a new state-of-the-art parliament building. Built amid the devastation wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic, it symbolises Modi’s signature in stone and is the latest addition to Delhi’s monumental and imperial architecture. As Modi pirated the global left’s fixation on decolonisation at the time, he was unequivocal in declaring the new building’s inauguration as the real end of India’s long servitude, wrought first by Muslim empires and then briefly by the British. In a single stroke, Modi dismissed India’s now reviled English-educated elite as corrupt purveyors of foreign political values while directing ire at India’s besieged Muslim population. 

Cast as a coronation, the pageantry projected Modi as king, as he walked down the building’s long corridor with the ritual silver sceptre, the Sengol, from the erstwhile southern Indian Hindu kingdom of Tanjore. The ritually significant sceptre had originally been given to the staunchly republican Nehru, who had housed it in a government museum. By installing it in the new parliament building, Modi signalled the coming of new sovereign arrangements.  

Southern India has resolutely denied Modi any popularity, let alone the devotion that he has commanded over great swathes of northern and western India. Crucially, the new parliament building will seat close to 900 members. With its rise in population, India is set to go through a delimitation exercise by 2030 that will increase the number of constituencies. India’s demographics are regionally divided with much higher and denser population rates in the north. The new delimitation exercise is set to disempower economically superior southern India, while rewarding the economically backward north.  

If his back-story of humble origins once made Modi a relatable figure, a decade on there is little that distinguishes national pride from the strident chauvinism that he embodies. Modi has transformed himself into a messianic figure who is aiming for even a bigger mandate. 

It would be a categorical error to see this political contest as one between religion and secularism. Unlike in the West or even in its newly partitioned neighbour of Pakistan, neither linguistic nor religious identity was given primacy in India’s constitution of 1950 that made diversity the principle of unity. The constitution provided the blueprint for a bold future as it became the document of its democracy and the vehicle that guaranteed radical new rights to India’s citizens.   

Animated by a post-colonial piety, Nehru spearheaded a political revolution that laid down democratic institutions with a commitment to a multi-religious polity and a protected economy. His era created, and was ultimately dependent on, a small elite which was zealously self-enclosed and snobbish, and the greatest beneficiary of India’s freedom. Identified today as “Lutyens’ elite” – after the architect Edwin Landseer Lutyens who gave Delhi its stunning if forbidding aesthetics of imperial power – the scornful label conveys contempt more for Nehru than for the British colonial rulers.  

Modi was quick to tap in to the resentment against the liberal establishment and its elites that has fuelled what the public intellectual Pankaj Mishra has called our age of anger. Before Brexit Britain and even Trump’s Maga momentum, Modi attacked India’s so called ancien régime as corrupt and nepotistic, in order to foster a politically resurgent Hindu identity.  

New India has found many votaries. A new cultural and intellectual establishment has amplified Modi’s image and message in broadsheets and television studios. Through global summits and a new and sprawling network of think tanks, an incantation of keywords advertises the ambitions of this new identity. From “Made in India” through to “Digital India” via the “India Way”, Modi’s campaign straplines have evolved over the decade; the current catchphrase is “ Viksit Bharat ”, or “Developed India”. All have prioritised the spectacle and symbolism of branding over substance. As global indices have today deemed India to be a “backsliding democracy”, Delhi – highly attuned to status – has responded by announcing its very own new metrics housed by its leading establishment think tank Observer Research Foundation.  

This image-making sits alongside the criminalisation of dissent, the imprisoning of leading figures from India’s opposition and the erosion of liberty at home. But India is not in the grip of “populist authoritarianism”, as it is so often portrayed. For all the concentration and personalisation of power in Modi, a new political order akin to the party-state defines India’s latest political avatar. A party-state implies the absence of boundaries between state, society, government, party and, indeed, cadre. By contrast, modern states prize and thrive on the distinction between the different organs of government and their policing via checks and balances and, above all, seek to represent rather than overwhelm society.  

As a cadre-based party, and at twice the size of China’s Communist Party, the BJP is not only the world’s largest political party, with 180 million members, but it is also one of the world’s richest parties with nearly $6bn in its coffers. With a number of other affiliates – notably the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) paramilitary body, founded in 1925 and committed to the realisation of Hindutva or political Hindu-ness with over five million volunteers – Modi helms a massive and efficient political machinery.  

From vigilantes who violently police inter-faith romances to neighbourhood associations that enforce Hindu dietary practices, the boundary between culture and politics, party and state has blurred. Even though Hindu-Muslim riots have receded in the last decade, mob lynchings – especially those targeting India’s Muslims and Dalits (the caste known as “untouchables”) – have emerged as a new, violent trend. 

Bureaucracy, the so-called steel frame of India, has remained supplicant, and Modi has rarely chastised the faceless but all-too-powerful civil service. Marked by a near absence of whistle-blowers, Modi’s decade of rule has witnessed a complete alignment between the ruling politicos and administrators. India’s widely regarded supreme court judges are now routinely given to making sanctimonious speeches espousing liberal values such as support of same-sex marriage, that are in stark contrast to their consequential judgements that have been largely status quo-ist. 

Modi has been astute in creating a direct connection between himself and the vast populace, which is dependent on the state for its everyday existence. Enabled by technology, direct cash transfers are given for everything from food rations to vaccinations. Dubbed as “Modi’s guarantees” – which are in part bankrolled by a new centralised but indirect sales-tax regime and a universal identification programme and online banking – India’s emerging digital state is the new leviathan. The mobile phone has emerged as the key instrument which now determines the relationship between the citizen and the state. For all the dangers of a Silicon Valley-led Big Tech that is fast absorbing the state in the West, India’s digital life is invisible, intrusive and altogether statist. Yet, crucially, this new welfarism has only helped Modi’s popularity soar.  

To counter the Modi personality and the emergent party-state, Nehru’s great grandson Rahul Gandhi, an MP for the opposition Indian National Congress party, has emulated Mahatma Gandhi (who is no relation) by walking the length and breadth of the country twice. Effectively the face of India’s opposition, Rahul Gandhi has – first through the Bharat Jodo Yatra (the Unity March) in the winter of 2022 and 2023 and the recently concluded Nyaya Yatra (Walk for Justice) – created a distinct campaign in Modi’s India; his supporters say the act of walking has symbolically countered violence with non-violence. Reduced to a factionalised rump, Gandhi’s Congress party wrested Karnataka, one of the richest states and the tech-hub of India, from the BJP in a consequential federal election in 2023, making it a powerful launch pad for a national campaign against Modi. 

Twenty-six small and big parties, including Congress, have forged an unprecedented, united bloc against Modi. Responding to the seductive power of symbols, it has named itself after the nation: I. N.D.I. A. (Indian, National, Inclusive Development Alliance). It has a long way to go in occupying the national government, but it has nevertheless set the terms of the contest pushing economic justice as the key electoral issue. With record levels of unemployment and inequality, and surging prices of everyday goods, most media encounters with the voting public have focused on the strained economy. Aspiration, which had buzzed through the political landscape for a decade, has been replaced by a prosaic realism. This is to say, while Modi has focused on New India, the opposition has succeeded in shifting focus to the lives of Indians.  

Despite support for Modi across the mainstream media, social and online media has been dominated by the opposition. In symbolically holding up the Indian constitution repeatedly in rallies, Gandhi has effectively placed rights and the future of Indians as another key choice for voters, offering an alternative to the potential advent of the party-state. After six long weeks of campaigning and as voting concludes on 1 June, the overall effect is a distinct lack of euphoria let alone an electoral wave for Modi. For all the passion and pride that Modi may incite, it’s clear that exhaustion has set in with the relentless cultural and political remaking of the country.

Narendra Modi may still be confident that he will make history, but the future of India no longer appears fated.  

[See also: The grim reality behind Russian advances in Ukraine ]

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COMMENTS

  1. Criminalisation of politics: causes, impacts and solutions

    Since, in India electoral politics is more about caste, ethnicity, religion and several other factors, candidates overcome the reputational loss due to criminal charges and come out as victorious in elections. Black money in elections: Electoral politics is largely dependent on the money and the funding that it receives.

  2. Criminalization of Politics

    The criminalization of politics means the participation of criminals in politics which includes that criminals can contest in the elections and get elected as members of the Parliament and the State legislature. It takes place primarily due to the nexus between politicians and criminals.

  3. All you need to know about criminalization of politics

    This article is written by Surbhi Jindal, a law student at Dr. B.R. Ambedkar National Law University, Haryana. Through this article, she has discussed the concept of criminalization of politics in the Indian context exhaustively. It has been published by Rachit Garg. Introduction India gained independence from British Rule in 1947, but a question to […]

  4. The criminalization of politics, the politics of criminalization and

    Christian Olsson is professor in political science at Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), director of its research unit in international relations (REPI) and affiliated to its Observatory of the Arab and Muslim worlds (OMAM). He has recently published in Millenium, Critical Military Studies and the Canadian Journal of Political Science.

  5. Trumped Up: How Criminalization of Political Differences Endangers

    This deeply undemocratic fallacy—that political sins must be investigated and prosecuted as criminal—is an exceedingly dangerous trend. Hardening positions on both sides has been manifested by increasing demands to criminalize political differences. Both sides scream "lock 'em up" instead of making substantive criticisms of opposing ...

  6. Criminalization of Politics and Politicization of Criminals: A ...

    The Law Commission of India and several other committees have already recommended different means to overcome the present situation of criminalization of politics. The Supreme Court of India has from time to time given the guidelines for uprooting the phenomenon of criminalization of politics.

  7. PDF Criminalization of Politics in India: Evolution and Causes

    The most important cause of criminalisation of politics is the unholy nexus between politicians and bureaucracy. Ramchandra Guha (India after Gandhi) says, "In Jawaharlal Nehru's time the civil service was shielded from politics, transfers, promotions and the like were decided within the executive branch itself. ...

  8. The Concept of Criminalization of Politics in India

    Abstract. The Indian democracy is one of the largest in the world yet the internal political system is infested with some of the very crude problem that other counties of the world have long overcome. It is very important that democracy forms the basic structure of the society. Effort must be made to make society democratic.

  9. Criminalization of politics

    "Criminalization of politics" is a political buzzword in the United States used in the media, by commentators, bloggers as well as by defenders of high-ranking government officials who have been indicted or have faced criminal or ethical investigations. Most recently, the term has been applied to proceedings against President George W. Bush's advisers and the Republican Party leadership in ...

  10. Explaining Criminalization: From

    symbolic politics, and the emergence of criminal law; (b) contemporary work that unpacks the nature of the relationship between organizational, social movement, and state-related factors that structure and mediate the outcome of definitional and political processes involved in efforts to criminalize elements of social life; and (c) more recent

  11. Criminalization of Politics

    In India, the Criminalization of politics has become a growing concern, with a significant number of elected officials facing criminal charges. This has led to public distrust in the political system and the perception that politicians use their power to evade the law. The criminalization of politics refers to the involvement of individuals ...

  12. Supreme Court on Criminalisation of Politics

    Why in News. Recently, the Supreme Court in the two different judgements has raised concerns about the menace of criminalisation in politics. In one case, it found nine political parties guilty of contempt for not following in letter and spirit its February 13, 2020 direction. In another case, it has issued directions that no criminal case ...

  13. Criminalisation of Politics: A Grave Threat to Democracy

    The infiltration of criminals into politics has become a growing concern, raising serious questions about the integrity of democratic processes. The criminalisation of politics, with candidates charged with heinous offences holding positions of power, has cast a shadow on governance, accountability, and the people's trust, writes Diksha Puri.

  14. Criminalisation of Politics

    The criminalization of politics means the participation of criminals in politics which includes that criminals can contest in the elections and get elected as members of the Parliament and the State legislature. It takes place primarily due to the nexus between politicians and criminals. Legal Aspects of Disqualification of Criminal Candidates ...

  15. Criminalization of Politics in India

    The criminalisation of Indian politics holds the effect of restricting the procedure of righteousness and causing further uncertainties in trials. Offenders entering Indian politics further boosts crime in public life. It negatively affects the state organisations, including the executive, bureaucracy, legislature, and courts.

  16. The theory and politics of criminalisation

    The concept of criminalisation eventually found its feet in the formulation of social reaction theory and labelling in the 1960s. For the American sociologist Becker, the key to understanding the origins of deviance lay in the reactions of a social audience, rather than in the behaviour of individual actors themselves.

  17. Criminalization of Politics in India: Causes, Effects, Measures

    The rising percentage of members of parliament who have a criminal background: 2004 - 24%, 2009 - 30%, 2014 - 34% and 2019 -43%. Around 50% of MPs in the new Lok Sabha have criminal records. This increasing number of members with criminal records in parliament endangers the survival of any true democracy. In this article, you will learn everything about the criminalisation of politics viz ...

  18. PDF Supremo Amicus Criminalisation of Politics in India

    essays published by people on this topic, since the problem is an emerging one. This research paper will also use other research techniques. Keywords: Criminalizationof politics, politics, democracy, constitutional safeguards Introduction to Criminalization of Politics Criminalization of politics is when politics

  19. Criminalization of Politics

    Criminalization of Politics means that the criminals entering the politics and contesting elections and even getting elected to the Parliament and state legislature. Criminalization of politics is the focus of public debate when discussion on electoral reforms takes place. A February 2020 Supreme Court judgement on Criminalization in politics ...

  20. Criminalization of Politics: Nature, Causes and Recent Developments

    The most important cause of criminalisation of politics is the unholy nexus between politicians and bureaucracy. Ramchandra Guha (India after Gandhi) says, "In Jawaharlal Nehru's time the civil service was shielded from politics, transfers, promotions and the like were decided within the executive branch itself.

  21. Criminalization of Politics : Daily Current Affairs

    The criminalization of politics and corruption hits the roots of democracy. There should be wide publicity of the candidates with criminal records, who are contesting in an election and the political parties that give them support. There is a need to bring greater transparency in the campaign financing of political parties.

  22. The Link to Abolition

    As (autistic self-advocate) Esther Warwick shared with me in correspondence about Chapman's essay, conflating Autism advocacy, the disability rights movement, online neurodiversity activists, and national and state autism organizations as "Liberal Neurodiversity" obscures the ideological distance between them.

  23. India's last election?

    The Weekend Essay. 25 May 2024. ... Nehru spearheaded a political revolution that laid down democratic institutions with a commitment to a multi-religious polity and a protected economy. His era created, and was ultimately dependent on, a small elite which was zealously self-enclosed and snobbish, and the greatest beneficiary of India's ...

  24. Criminalisation of Politics

    About: Criminalisation of politics is defined as the situation when criminals participate in the politics of the government, i.e., contest elections and get elected to the Parliament and state legislatures. This growing menace has become a big problem for our society, affecting the basic principles of democracy, such as fairness in elections ...

  25. Criminalization of Politics

    The criminalization of politics means the participation of criminals in politics which includes that criminals can contest in the elections and get elected as members of the Parliament and the State legislature. It takes place primarily due to the nexus between politicians and criminals. Legal Aspect of Disqualification of Criminal Candidates.

  26. Combating contamination and contagion: Embodied and environmental

    The circumscription of meaning facilitated by metaphor can have serious consequences. In their essay 'Decolonization is Not a Metaphor', Tuck and Yang (2012) discuss the effects of the 'metaphorization' of decolonization. Metaphor in this instance transforms the material action of repatriation into a broader category of 'progressive ...