Over a decade and a half, the number of political parties fielding candidates has increased from 157 to 679, though the number of registered parties is 2,143, not all with privilege to fight elections on their own symbols.
While, there is no cavil against this quantitative increase, there is grave disquiet over the fact that 19 per cent of the candidates in the 2019 parliamentary elections face criminal charges that include rape, murder and kidnapping. There is graver fear about the enormous influence that money power, financing the democratic exercise, will wield.
A record was set with election to the Vellore Lok Sabha constituency in Tamil Nadu getting scratched courtesy rampant abuse of money. Discredited on some scores though the Election Commission is, some Rs 3,500 crore worth cash, liquor, drugs were seized prior to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, a three-fold increase over the 2014 seizure of Rs 1,206 crore.
One suspects that what was seized was just a minuscule amount of what greased the electoral wheels. In any event, with almost one out of every five candidates accused of committing some heinous crime or the other, many electors find their options seriously limited.
The New Delhi-based Association of Democratic Reforms’ (ADR) detailed reports about the “continuous increase in the proportion of candidates who have criminal cases against them” seems to fall on deaf ears with very little debate on the criminal records of candidates. Much of the problem can be attributed to the country’s overburdened judicial system that prevents fast disposal of cases because the system disallows only convicted criminals with a minimum jail term of two years from contesting the polls.
Meanwhile, the accused have a free run and their numbers have crept up from 15 per cent in 2009 to 17 per cent in 2014; the two leading political parties in the country jostled for top honours in 2019. By the ADR’s report, of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidates, 40 per cent are thus tainted and the Congress is a close second with 39 per cent, with fair chances that many will adorn Parliament, despite their electors being perfectly familiar with their history sheets.
A crude party-voter psychology is at play here. As far as the party is concerned, the “winnability” is often determined by the candidate’s ability to expend money and wield muscle-power, as confirmed by the ADR research.
The voters are clearly influenced by the perceived ability of the candidate to deliver what they want, often the wielding of extra-constitutional power, using strong-arm tactics to dispense “justice” at the local level in a society poorly served by the judicial machinery, creating room for a system of parallel justice. Irrespective of who wins these elections, Parliament will be weighed down by a heavy burden of guilt, proven or otherwise, as laws get framed by many who have little understanding of either law or order.