Democracy is said to be ‘for the people, by the people and of the people’. In that sense, at the centre stage of democracy lies people. However, even after more than six decades since independence the lives of common people have worsened, to say the least. Democracy implies rule of law, upholding the tenets of Constitution, following the canons of moral and legal propriety. However, in all these years since independence the process of social, political and economic change has been vitiated by the way politics is being done in our country. Politics and crime have come to be associated with each other the way umbilical cord connects mother and infant. It is such a shame that politics in the world’s largest democracy has come to be associated with the cult of gun. Despite of such records and illegal participation, these people get elected to Parliament and State Legislature and are responsible for governing and running the country.
Political power is the authority to regulate the nation through a genuine process of election. Criminalisation of politics is the penetration of criminals in the field of politics. As a result, misuse of political power takes place by the national representatives. Kautilya, a very famous political and economic philosopher has once said in his seminal book Arthashashtra, “Just as it is impossible not to taste honey or poison that is at the tip of the tongue, so also it is impossible for a minister or a government servant not to eat up at least a bit of government revenue”. In any country, political power is the best means to attain social and economic change. However, in a corrupted institution, politics becomes the easiest route to achieve economic ends. Two main constituents which encourage the criminalisation of politics are money power and muscle power. The show of these powers happens during the election process.
There are two ethical and legal issues associated with the money power. Ethical aspect is that, the candidate contesting election tries to sway vote by money power rather it should be merit based and not based on material things.
The legal aspect of breaching the expenditure limit is that the candidate is not adhering to the prescribed limit set by the Election Commission. Also the money spent is ill-gotten wealth which the candidate is spending with profligacy. The second component of criminalisation of politics is ‘muscle power’. Since 1970s, use of muscle power to garner votes and influence the attitude and conduct of electorate has happened with the free use of muscleman. In the popular culture of Indian cinema, this has been depicted with a great taste of reality. Movies like ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ has depicted how money and muscle power is used to win elections. However, since 1990s it so happened that these musclemen started entering political arena instead of providing just muscle power to the candidates.
This turn in the history of Indian politics further vitiated the arena of politics. Rajni Kothari, a noted political commentator and scholar has aptly summarised the Indian politics as – ‘a nexus between Neta-Dada-Babu-Lala’ (Politician-Muscleman-Bureaucrats-Businessmen). The worst part of money power in politics is that once the candidate is selected he or she has the first aim to get back the amount spent on the election process. Here, starts the vicious circle which has embroiled the Indian politics.
There are various reasons which lead to criminalisation of politics. The lure of power is the topmost factor why people want to enter politics. By being at the political helm, people have all the state paraphernalia at their disposal. They tend to use all this to further their own interests, to line their own pockets and grind their own axe. As political masters are the legislators and political executives, they have a lot of power to influence policies. These attractions have led the unscrupulous elements to enter politics.
The first half of this decade saw a number of scams where a large number of politicians were involved. Corruption Perception Index 2015 has ranked India as 76th. This shows the nexus between politicians and bureaucrats. The concept of ‘Committed Bureaucracy’ has metamorphosed into ‘Sycophant bureaucrats’, dancing at the tunes of their political masters. In this process the ‘corruption of institutions’ has changed into ‘institutionalisation of corruption’. The second reason for criminalisation of politics is the vote bank politics. In this process, a lot of ascriptive qualities like caste, religion etc. plays a role. In order to coerce the voters to cast their votes for a particular candidate money and muscle power is used.
However, some election reforms in recent past have been a progress in the right direction. Introduction of NOTA (None Of The Above) in the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) has now given a choice to voters. Also the forms prescribed by Election Commission to identify the criminal antecedents of candidates is a step in the right direction. This was the outcome of the Supreme Court Judgement in 2002.
In 1993, Vohra Committee was set-up to go through the phenomena of criminalisation of politics. The committee made an observation that various crime syndicates and mafia organisations have developed significant money and muscle power. They have significant government linkages, political patronage and operate with impurity. Our elections involve a lot of black money and it is this factor which has led to criminalisation of politics.
To deal with this issue in 1998, Inderjit Gupta Committee was formed. It recommended for state funding of elections. This will curb the use of money power in election process. Therefore, misuse of state power and criminalisation of politics can be reduced and eliminated only if people participate on a larger scale in running the affairs of the state. Power must be decentralised, rules and regulations must be transparent and there must be greater involvement of people in the government running through citizens, committees, co-operatives, etc. The state must not interfere in each and every economic activity. The scheme of electoral bonds was announced in the Union Budget of 2017 with an aim of increasing transparency in political funding. It makes India first country in the world to have such unique bonds for electoral funding. These bonds are bearer instrument in nature of promissory note and interest-free banking instrument. It aims at rooting out current system of largely anonymous cash donations made to political parties which lead to generation of black money in economy.
The representatives should be ideal and they should have the qualities of a social servant. They must think and work for the welfare of the people at large in the interest of the nation. Our Constitution ensures a Socialist, Secular State and equality, fraternity among its citizens. Our country has a democratic set-up which is by the people, for the people and of the people. Gandhiji has mentioned, “Politics without principle” as one of the seven sins.