are criminals thriving? There is a growing market demand
for criminals in society. The justice system has become
moribund and ineffective, no longer capable of resolving
disputes or punishing criminals in a credible and speedy
manner. With 25 million cases pending in courts, many
of them for years and decades, most people have no faith
in due process of law. More than the pendency of cases,
the 'missing cases' which never reach courts for want
of faith in judicial process are increasing alarmingly.
Most people swallow injustice, and suffer in silence.
There is no reasonable chance of reparation for violation
of rights or speedy and fair resolution of disputes. Therefore,
going to courts makes no sense except in extreme cases,
or when a litigant is rich or is actually seeking to delay
a case. Such a climate breeds a class of criminal 'entrepreneurs'
who are willing to provide rough and ready justice through
real or implied use of force. The 'bhai log' or mafias
or criminal gangs thrive primarily by settlements of disputes.
They have become the undeclared, but effective informal
courts of law, with the capacity to enforce their 'diktats'
by brutal methods. If you examine the antecedents of many
criminals in politics, they started their careers as dispensers
of rough justice, and flourish by 'settlement' of disputes
for a price. Sadly, more criminal cases are pending in
our courts, and for longer periods than civil cases. Nearly
18 million criminal cases are pending in India, which
is about thrice the number of civil cases. Of these, nearly
5 million cases are pending over 10 years! Clearly, mafias
and organized crime syndicates have no real fear of law.
Therefore, the criminal gangs operate with impunity.
motivates such 'successful' criminal entrepreneurs to
enter politics? An incident recounted by a police official
will answer the question. Some years ago, the leader of
a criminal gang known for many murders began taking active
interest in the affairs of the ruling party in a state
at the local level. The then Home Minister who came to
know of it asked the police official to introduce the
criminal to him. A few days later, the minister and the
official were participating in a public function in organizing
which the criminal was prominent. The police official
brusquely summoned the criminal and introduced him to
the minister. The minister then put his arms around the
criminal in a show of affection, and greeted him effusively!
It is this protection which attracts criminals into politics.
Once a criminal becomes a politician, the police, whose
job it is to keep him under check and investigate his
crimes, become his protectors. In India, traditionally
crime investigation is under political supervision. This
control is of two kinds: the political bosses determine
transfers and postings of officials who are entrusted
with all police functions - crime investigation, law and
order, traffic control, VIP security etc; the government
has the power to withdraw prosecution. Given this situation,
it makes eminent sense for a criminal to become a politician
in order to escape the clutches of law; indeed, to control
the crime investigation process to his advantage.
do parties invite criminals to be their candidates? In
a constituency-based first-past-the-post (FPTP) system
of election, the local caste clout, and ability to bribe
or browbeat voters, and resort to polling irregularities
like bogus voting enhances chances of victory. Though
many criminal gangs are initially 'secular', they soon
split on caste or communal lines. They clearly take advantage
of social cleavages and position themselves as protectors
of their caste or community, thus provoking primordial
loyalties. That is why many criminals enjoy fierce local
support. With such caste clout, musclemen at their disposal,
and money accumulated through crime, they have natural
advantages in a local election. In our FPTP system, what
matters is to garner more constituency vote than any of
the rivals. The losing candidate's votes do not count.
Therefore, in our culture, there is fierce competition
for the marginal vote that a candidate can bring, which
often is the difference between victory and defeat. And
the local electoral malpractices have little impact on
a whole state or country. That is why politicians choose
'popular' criminals masquerading as caste or faction leaders
as candidates. That is why sometimes mafia dons in jail
win elections with ease.
If we are
serious about decriminalization of politics, all these
three problems need to be addressed. Justice must be made
accessible, speedy and affordable; crime investigation
must be insulated from the vagaries of partisan politics,
and made accountable; and we must move towards better
electoral systems like proportional representation with
effective safeguards to ensure democratic choice of candidates
and prevent fragmentation on caste lines. Public opinion
needs to be mobilized on all these fronts. Opposition
to individual politicians with criminal antecedents is
necessary; but only deeper systemic reform can address
the real crisis.