By Yashwardhan Joshi
The cow is revered in India as a holy animal, but there is no holy cow in Indian elections. All political parties are the same. They harp on clean politics but field candidates with criminal background in large numbers. The ongoing assembly elections in five states are no different. The parties have again stuck to the trend of favouring criminality in politics.
More than 20 per cent of candidates in the first phase and about 15 per cent in the second phase of elections in Uttar Pradesh have criminal cases registered against them. In Uttarakhand, Punjab and Goa, the figure is the same at about 15 per cent, an analysis of the lists of candidates by the election watchdog Association for Democratic Rights (ADR) has revealed.
A close scrutiny of their affidavits filed with the Election Commission further reveals that many of such candidates are accused of serious crimes -- ranging from murder to attempt to murder to crime against women to kidnapping for ransom.
In Uttar Pradesh, where parties have often relied on alleged criminals and musclemen to seize power, as many as 168 of the total 836 candidates, or about 20 per cent, who contested the first phase have criminal cases against them. A high of 17 per cent or 143 such candidates have serious criminal cases to their names. Of these, 15 candidates have declared cases related to murder, 42 related to attempt to murder, five related to crimes against women, including assault with intent to rape, and two cases related to kidnapping for ransom.
According to the affidavits, the BJP tops the list with about 29 out of 73 (40 per cent) of its candidates in the first phase having declared criminal cases against them. It was closely followed by Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which had given party ticket to 28 out of 73 (38 per cent) of candidates with criminal background. Similarly, 19 out of 57 (33 per cent) candidates from Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), 15 out of 51 (29 per cent) candidates from Akhilesh Yadav's ruling Samajwadi Party, six out of 24 (25 per cent) candidates from the Congress, and 38 out of 293 (13 per cent) Independent candidates declared criminal cases against themselves.
In Phase II, as many as 107 of the 719 candidates in the fray have criminal cases against them. Of them, 84 candidates have declared cases related to murder, attempt to murder and crime against women.
The BSP tops the chart with 25 out of 67 (37 per cent) of its candidates having criminal background, followed by the SP with 21 out of 51 (41 per cent) candidates, the BJP with 16 out of 67 (23 per cent), the Congress with 6 out of 18 (33 per cent), and the RLD with 6 out of 52 (11 per cent). In Phase II, 15 constituencies were declared as 'Red Alert Constituencies' -- ones having three or more candidates in the fray with declared criminal cases against them.
The same trend is repeated in other states. Of the 637 candidates in the fray in Uttarakhand which has a 70-member state assembly, 91 (14 per cent) have criminal records. Among them, the BJP has the highest number -- 19 out of 70 (27 per cent), followed closely by the Congress with 17 out of 70 (24 per cent), the BSP with 7 out of 69 (about 10 per cent), Uttarakhand Kranti Dal with 4 out of 55 (7 per cent), the SP with 2 out of 20 (10 per cent) and Independents with 32 out of 261 (12 per cent).
When we further break up the statistics, we find that of the 19 BJP candidates with criminal records, 10 have been accused of heinous crimes such as murder, attempt to murder, crime against women and kidnapping. Similarly, of the 17 Congress candidates with criminal background, 12 have heinous crimes registered against them.
In Punjab, about 15 per cent of the candidates have criminal cases registered against them, with 77 candidates accused of serious crimes. The Congress leads the pack, with more than 12 per cent of its candidates facing criminal charges. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which vows to wipe out corruption and criminality in politics, has also not succeeded in keeping itself clear of the taint as 11 per cent of its candidates have criminal record.
The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal also has a similar figure of 11 per cent, while 9 per cent of the candidates of the Apna Punjab Party and the BJP face similar charges.
In Goa, too, about 15 per cent (38 out of 251) of the candidate declared criminal cases against them. Here, too, the Congress has the highest number of candidates with criminal cases against them at 24 per cent (9 out of 37). The ruling BJP comes second with 16 per cent (6 out of 36) while the Aam Aadmi Party again suffers the taint with 7 per cent (3 out of 39) of its candidates having criminal background.
But the big question is, why do political parties keep on fielding candidates with criminal background election after election despite vowing to improve the law and order situation? The answer is simple: These candidates win. But why is there crime but no punishment? Maybe, because the voters are not aware of the criminal background of the candidates.
Or the answer to this may lie behind the reason why Mayawati re-inducted mafia don Mukhtar Ansari -- who has more than 40 criminal cases against him -- into the BSP fold after expelling him in 2010 for his involvement in criminal activities, and giving him and his criminal clan the party ticket in the current elections. The reason is that Ansari wields influence over a community that the BSP supremo is anxious to woo.
So long as caste equations and ignorance among the electorate about the criminal background of a candidate exist, criminals will continue to rule the roost in elections, despite courts asking parties not to field candidates with criminal record. It is now the duty of the political parties to rid criminal elements from Indian elections and politics.
(Yashwardhan Joshi is a Delhi-based veteran journalist)