The concept of the 'Rule of Law' is the basic structure of our constitution. It becomes imperative to observe the rule of law in order to run the country according to the constitutional provisions. However, in reality, often politicians with criminal records get elected and even become part of the government, destroying the whole idea of the rule of law. Law-breakers after becoming the law-makers ensure that only those laws and policies are made that serve their interest and are not in contradiction to it. Thus, the criminalisation of politics poses a threat to the very democratic foundation of our country.
The criminalisation of politics is against the ethos of free and fair elections. Politicians with criminal background do pollute the process of election. In spite of the various directions given by the Honorable Supreme Court of India from time to time, no political party is taking measures towards the elimination of criminal elements from their fold.
Over the last three general elections, there has been an alarming increase in the incidence of criminals in politics. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) report 2019, out of the 7928 candidates analysed in Lok Sabha elections in 2019, 1500 (19%) candidates had declared criminal cases against themselves. Out of 8205 candidates analysed during Lok Sabha elections in 2014, 1404 (17%) candidates had declared criminal cases against themselves. Out of 7810 candidates analysed during Lok Sabha elections in 2009, 1158 (15%) candidates had declared criminal cases against themselves.
The ADR report states that 1070 (13%) candidates contesting in Lok Sabha 2019 elections had declared serious criminal cases including cases related to rape, murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, crimes against women etc. Out of 8205 candidates analysed during Lok Sabha elections in 2014, 908 (11%) candidates had declared serious criminal cases against themselves.
Out of 7810 candidates analysed during Lok Sabha elections in 2009, 608 (8%) candidates had declared serious criminal cases against themselves. In Lok Sabha 2019 elections, 56 candidates had declared convicted cases against themselves.
The ADR report also shows that 265 (49%) constituencies in the Lok Sabha elections had 3 or more candidates with declared criminal cases. 245 (45%) constituencies in the Lok Sabha elections 2014 had 3 or more candidates with declared criminal cases. Over 196 (36%) constituencies in the Lok Sabha elections 2009 had 3 or more candidates with declared criminal cases.
A candidate in an election is required to file an affidavit called Form 26 along with the nomination paper that furnishes information on his/her assets, liabilities, educational qualifications, criminal antecedents (convictions and all pending cases) and public dues if any. Moreover, in a recent judgment passed by the Honorable Supreme Court of India, political parties have been directed to publish criminal antecedents of contesting candidates on their website and social media platforms along with reasons for fielding each one of these candidates, notwithstanding their 'winnability' and the contesting candidates have been directed to publish such antecedents in newspapers and television at least three times before polls.
However, various survey reports show that these measures are not sufficient to make all the voters aware of the antecedents of contesting candidates taking into account the factors like high illiteracy rate, lack of access to communication media to many voters and unawareness. As per the National Statistical Commission's survey report, the literacy rate among persons of age 7 years and above during 2017-18 was 77.7 % and 22.3% of the population of India is still illiterate.
As per Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's Performance Indicators Report released in November 2020, there are 718.74 million active internet users in India that comprise only 54.29% of the population and 45.71% of the country's population still does not have internet access. Publicity of criminal antecedents of contesting candidates through newspapers and television three times before polls too have a limited reach.
Moreover, according to the survey report on 'governance issues and voting behaviour' conducted by Association for Democratic Reforms in 2018, although 97.86% voters felt that candidates with criminal background should not be in parliament or state assembly, only 35.20% voters knew that they could get information on criminal records of the candidates. In relation to voting candidates with criminal antecedents, the maximum number of voters (36.67%) felt that people vote for such candidates because they are unaware of his/her criminal records.
Each and every voter has access to the electronic voting machine (EVM) and hence it could be used as an effective tool to make voters aware of the candidates with criminal antecedents. The Election Commission of India prints the ballot papers used in the balloting units of EVMs for Lok Sabha elections in white colour and that for assembly elections in pink colour.
If the panels (name, photo and election symbol) of the candidates with declared criminal cases against themselves are printed in red colour on ballot papers, then voters could identify such candidates and thereby make an informed choice. Red is the traditional colour of warning. Printing their panels in red will help illiterate adults and other voters encountering difficulties in accessing the details of the criminal antecedents of the contesting candidates make a careful decision and discourage political parties from fielding such candidates in elections.
A copy of the list of contesting candidates is displayed prominently outside each polling station. Election Commission should also display a copy of the summarised version of affidavits of contesting candidates along with it. It will help voters to check the antecedents of contesting candidates before entering the polling station.
Therefore, in order to help voters exercise their right to vote in an informed manner and discourage political parties from fielding candidates with criminal antecedents in elections, the election commission of India should print the panels of the candidates with declared criminal cases against themselves in red colour on ballot papers and display a copy of the summarised version of affidavits of contesting candidates prominently outside each polling station.
The author identifies himself as an academic writer. He has taken up several research activities aiming at good governance and policy framing for the past 5 years. On the basis of the extensive academic research carried out by him, he has sent many recommendations and suggestions to the central government and various state governments in order to make our society better, more transparent and egalitarian, some of which have been accepted and acted upon.