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Election Watch- Screening of Candidates for Criminal Record (1999)

LOK SATTA launched a massive campaign against criminalization of politics. In 1999 elections to the Lok Sabha and A.P. Legislative Assembly, we put together a team of citizens with impeccable credentials, comprising of former judges, jurists, civil servants, police officials, media persons and activists. Benchmark for determining criminal record were clearly established, and public participation was sought. A post box no. 100 was taken up and people were encouraged to send specific information about candidates without having to reveal their own identity. Over 2500 responses came. Information was also collected from media, police and other sources. After verification, a list of 45 candidates with criminal record was released by LOK SATTA. It created a sensation and forced political parties on the defensive. The list included many prominent legislators, members of parliament and ministers. The process of screening was so open, transparent and objective that no party or candidate dared to question it. The parties only response was that there were other candidates whose names were not included. An effective tool was thus created by LOK SATTA to fight criminalization of politics. This exercise has been continued in all subsequent elections. The effort had the following consequences:

  • Criminalization of politics has been arrested, though not reversed. Parties stopped nominating afresh persons with criminal record. But established legislators with criminal record continued.
  • Criminalization of politics has become a major electoral issue, forcing parties to respond.
  • The Delhi High Court judgment of Nov. 2000 asking the Election Commission to collect and disclose to Public, criminal records of candidates was largely based on LOK SATTA's documentation in 1999.
  • In AP, a draft bill was prepared by LOK SATTA for curbing criminalization of local governments. All parties publicly committed themselves to supporting the Bill.
  • Election Commission endorsed LOK SATTA proposal to ban candidature of those against whom charges have been framed by a magistrate, and are pending.
  • In the local government elections of 2001, LOK SATTA's campaign forced a major party to change the candidate for Zilla Parishad chairmanship on grounds of history of violent politics, factionalism and criminal record. Though the party had a clear majority in Zilla Parishad, LOK SATTA could mount a campaign in just six days and force the party to change the candidate against the wishes of all its legislators and ministers in the district. This is the first time in India's electoral history that civil society pressure could force a change of candidate at such a senior level.

LOK SATTA also helped partner organizations in Maharashtra, Tamilnadu, West Bengal and Orissa launch similar campaigns in their respective states.




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