Decline in number of contesting Lok Sabha candidates with criminal records

Analysis by the Times of India indicates an approximately 30 per cent decline in the count of candidates with criminal records contesting the present Lok Sabha elections as compared to the statistics for the 2004 elections. While there may be many factors responsible for this decline, it is evident that civil society efforts such as the “No Criminals in Politics” and “Jaago Re” campaigns as well as the efforts of organisations like Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch have played a significant role in mobilising public outrage regarding the criminal backgrounds of the people’s representatives to put pressure on political parties not to field candidates with criminal records. This blog has previously discussed such civil society initiatives here. However, there is no scope for complacency because it is likely that at least some, if not a good number of our elected representatives this time around too will have criminal backgrounds. Civil society initiatives must not stop until we really achieve a Parliament and state legislatures with no criminals.

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Sushant
Sushant
13 years ago

I agree that criminals should not be law makers. But, just because someone has criminal cases registered against him/her, should we call them criminal. It does not look like a very liberal stance.

I think most politicians with criminal charges are responsible for it. It is often the delay in prosecution or the difficulty in getting witnesses that they walk away.

Tarunabh Khaitan
Tarunabh Khaitan
13 years ago

dear namita
a simpler, and perhaps fairer, way to ensure decriminalisation of the state would be to repeal the impunity provisions.

Tarunabh Khaitan
Tarunabh Khaitan
13 years ago

oh ‘fairer’not only than debarring the accused from contesting (a position you do not support), but also fairer than encouraging people to force political parties to stop giving tickets to non-convicted ‘criminals’ (a position that I think you do support). As I mentioned in my post, I think, although well-intentioned, this sort of public discourse is inimical to presumption of innocence, for surely this must be a political principle as much as a legal principle. i understand where the sense of frustration comes from, but i do think that a popular assumption that people know who the criminals are before courts have pronounced them guilty is unhealthy in a democracy.

Nick Robinson
Nick Robinson
13 years ago

Tarunabh, I just wanted to make my position clear since I got referenced on your last post. I don’t think there should be any restrictions if someone has just been charged with a crime. If they are convicted I think it depends on what the offense is whether they should be debarred from holding office (I don’t know what the law is on this in India). I also think that if they have served their time they should be able to run again (although you might want an exception if you were convicted for engaging in voter fraud, or perhaps if you were twice convicted).

All of that said, I don’t think it’s irrelevant for parties (or the public) to consider whether there are criminal charges against a candidate before they decide to field (vote for) them (I don’t think you are saying this). There should be public pressure to get candidates with serious and credible criminal charges against them not to run. If nothing else it can just be distracting. In the US, Governor Spitzer had to resign after a few days because of public pressure over prostitution allegations. I think resigning was the right course. Governor Blagojevich refused to resign over corruption charges and was eventually impeached. I think that was a fair determination made by the Illinois legislature, but not one they should necessarily make in every situation. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens ran in the last election with corruption charges against him (that were later dropped) and lost (after having easily won several times before). I think it’s fine that he ran and no one in his party seriously challenged him in a primary, but it probably wasn’t the right political move for the party in the state to let him go unchallenged. Congressman Larry Craig from Idaho just served out his term after admitting to disorderly conduct in a men’s bathroom. There was talk about maybe impeaching him, but in the end that calculation wasn’t made and I think it’s fine he served out his term even if it was distracting and probably did not serve the best interests of the people in his district. Congressman Mark Foley resigned after an investigation was launched into inappropriate emails he sent to male interns. That investigation was later dropped, but again I don’t think it’s a travesty that he resigned. In his judgment it was untenable for him to continue in his position doing a good job for his constituents. Part of the reason (the main reason), Foley and Spitzer resigned (and Blagojevich was impeached) was public pressure that arose over allegations or the opening of an investigation. I don’t think that’s unhealthy for a democracy.

I think what you are saying is that you don’t want parties to be pressured into creating a rule that anyone with allegations against them should be disbarred. I don’t think you are saying the party or the public shouldn’t take into consideration these accusations at all. Maybe the No More Criminals campaign goes a bit further then this position, but mostly what I’ve seen them doing so far is just trying to inform constituents, the media, civil society, etc. whether a candidate has a criminal charge against them or a criminal record. I think this part of their campaign at least is very important and commendable.

Tarunabh Khaitan
Tarunabh Khaitan
13 years ago

thanks both. i think i substantially agree with both your comments, and wherever i have given impressions to the contrary, I stand corrected.