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Indian Elections: Hostage to Corrupt Politicians

September 18, 2014

 

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We often talk of corruption pervading the electoral system in our country. We rue the criminals entering politics as we point out that 13 cabinet ministers in the present Union government face various charges of corruption. Further, as many as 186 MPs got elected despite facing criminal charges.

In desperation, we expect a messiah a la Anna Hazare to stem the rot. Yet, corrupt and criminal elements manage to win elections, because we, the voters, elect them, even though we are fed up with corruption and criminalisation of politics.

Do People Patronise Corrupt Politicians?

Given a choice, don’t we voters most of the time opt for a benevolent crook who we perceive as a smart go-getter? Don’t we loathe an idealist simply because (s)he tends to go “too much by the book”?  

Ask the Reserve Bank of India Governor, Raghuram Rajan! While  delivering a speech at the Twentieth Lalit Doshi Memorial Lecture on August 11, 2014 at Mumbai, he conceded that the tolerance for the “venal politician is because he is the crutch that helps the poor and underprivileged navigate a system that gives them so little access” . Rajan went on with his exposition – “… ration shops do not supply what is due … Teachers do not show up at schools to teach; The police do not register crimes… especially if committed by the rich and powerful… free medicines are not available at the dispensary…. This is where the crooked but savvy politician fits in… This may be why he survives.”

Indeed, deprivation leads to patronising the corrupt. But if the have-nots of the society were to be made responsible for patronising a ‘fixer’ of a politician, then corruption in politics would have been a dead issue in rich countries such as the USA where a raging debate is about whether crowd funding could be a panacea to the corrupt influence of money in politics in the country.

Caste, Community Equations Override Moral Factors

Ours is a more complicated society to deal with the issue of corrupt, criminal politicians. Just consider the caste and community factor. How could one explain the BS Yedyurappa phenomenon? As the Chief Minister of Karnataka, he faced corruption charges and was dropped unceremoniously by his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Yet, he forced his way back to the party fold with vengeance, riding high on his caste’s strong  support base in the state. Desperate to regain its hold in Karnataka, didn’t the BJP prefer to conveniently turn a blind eye to all such corruption charges concerning him and his family members?

In Jharkhand that goes to elections this year, many political parties are making beeline to woo one Harinarayan Rai, an Independent MLA for two-terms from Jarmundi constituency in Dumka, who faces various cases of corruption. Isn’t it because of the strong Khetori community’s support to him that ensured that he could register his second successive win from Jarmundi in 2009 despite being in jail that time in connection with corruption charges?

So, caste and community play a crucial role in elections. That political parties cannot ignore them reflects the all pervading notion that elections have to be won either by hook or by crook!

Look at Laloo Yadav and his Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) which has staged a comeback despite the ban on Laloo to contest elections. True his wife and daughter suffered humiliating defeats in the last general elections, but his decision to patch up with his one time friend-turned-rival, Nitish Kumar after two long decades, led to an impressive victory for the alliance in the recent assembly by-elections in Bihar. So, Laloo triumphed despite being convicted of corruption by the courts and being out of the jail on bail. Can we attribute his comeback to TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor or to the hopelessness of the voters? Or isn’t it just an example of clever politics that thrives on caste considerations?

Money & Muscle Power too Influence Elections

Yet another contributing factor to the success of corrupt and criminal politicians is their money and muscle power. Earlier these elements often resorted to booth- capturing and poll violence to showcase their strength and ensure their victory. Electoral reforms initiated by the irrepressible Election Commissioner TN Seshan, did curb many such acts of poll related violence but there still are large inadequacies in the law to check corrupt practices that help a corrupt or criminal candidate win at the hustings.

Electoral System Still Not Immune to Malpractices

Media reports and sting operations have time and again exposed the corrupt practices that undermine our electoral process. It is an open secret how millions of unaccounted money clandestinely change hands so as to purchase votes in elections and even to bribe officials to facilitate corruption – weren’t 28 Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) seized from an official’s residence at Kedrapada in Odisha at the time of general elections this year?  

Besides, a television sting operation too exposed how the Booth Level Officers (BLOs) and agents connived with corrupt politicians to ensure multiple voter IDs on a single voter’s photograph so as to facilitate fake and bogus voting in Gurgaon this year!

Also, consider the allegations of prevalence of ‘silent’ booth capturing wherein atmosphere is built up to scare the poll officials so as to make them flee from the booth that could enable bogus voting.

Obviously, all above reasons combine to answer why the corrupt and criminal elements win the elections. In their desperation to win, political parties do not stop giving tickets to corrupt elements. Their own opaque financial dealings too contribute to this effect.  None of them maintain proper books of accounts.

Time and again initiatives have been mooted to cover these inadequacies. While the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India had prepared a guideline note on ‘Accounting and Auditing of Political Parties” at the behest of the Election Commission of India in 2012, a committee under former chief justice of India Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah had drafted the Registration and Regulation of Political Parties (2011) to provide a democratic process for selecting party office-bearers as well as those given the ticket. Can the political parties reconsider implementation of these provisions? Or, are we destined to elect corrupt politicians till eternity?

WBDP18.09.2014

 

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of Elections.in.

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