Call it a mockery of democratism but voters in the western Indian state of Gujarat, which went to polls earlier this month, have suffered no qualms of conscience in turning law-breakers into law-makers instead of opting for honest-to-boot candidates at the hustings.
As many as 47 members (MLAs) of the new 182-strong legislative assembly in the Land of Mahatma Gandhi are as good as hooligans and hustlers facing criminal cases, and at least 33 of them have been charged with serious crimes like rape, murder, murder attempt and kidnapping.
Mahesh Vasava of the Bharatiya Tribal Party who rang the gong with a victory margin of 80,000-plus votes has hitherto been booked by the police for a record 24 times while the Congress, the National Congress Party and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also have one legislator each slapped with about a dozen dangerous charges.
What is worrying is not the fact that every fourth assemblyman – including three ministers sworn in on December 26 – is almost on the wrong side of the law but the bitter truth that the number of trespassers with grave charges has shot up from 24 in the House of 2012 to 33 in the new ‘hall of shame’.
A survey by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) revealed that the voters in Gujarat considered caste as the prime factor when they voted for a particular candidate what with 73 percent of respondents saying that they would vote even for a candidate with a criminal background if he or she belonged to their caste.
It was also found that candidates with criminal charges and deep pockets have a 13 percent chance of winning seats, as compared to a paltry 5 percent winning chance for candidates with a clean slate, and the success of suspicious candidates at the hustings has a chilling effect on individuals with clean records who might then think twice before joining the electoral fray.
“For Gujarat’s 47 million voters, caste is more important than urgent issues like consumer rights, corruption, education, employment”, points out Mukesh Parikh, a consumer-rights crusader who was given the Lifetime Achievement Award on the National Consumer Day on December 24 for taking up the cudgels for harassed citizens for the past 45 years.
But he told Al Arabiya English that Gujarat, homeland of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sorely lacks political awareness with the result that silence of the right-thinking people on criminalization of politics has allowed glad-handers of dubious character to go scot-free by pulling wool over the eyes of the gullible voters.
Citizen rights activist Roshan Shah opined that in the past 20 years, education had improved significantly in Gujarat and hence educated voters would never give a thumbs-up to a shady candidate. “But with wrongdoers calling the shots in the era of electronic voting machines (EVMs), either the EVMs are faulty or Gujaratis are educated idiots.”
But there are alert electors like BJP faithful Jitendra Prajapati who strongly feel that tainted politicos should not be allowed to contest polls and defame India’s reputation because no country would like to conduct business with a government run by criminals.
Indeed, even in the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of the Indian Parliament, an astounding 186 of the 541 lawmakers—every third member--have criminal cases filed against them, a situation worse than the House of 2009 which at 158 boasted fewer wheeler-dealers.
According to political commentator Rajendra Nailwal, hand-shakers of disrepute keep entering Parliament and state assemblies because the burning issue of electoral reforms has been hanging fire for donkey’s years, indeed, since the Nehruvian era.
Not surprisingly, though the Modi regime does not want to impose a lifetime ban on convicted politicians, it is certainly contemplating setting up 12 special fast-track courts--for the time being for at least one year – to try 1,581 pending criminal cases against members of Parliament and state Assemblies and Rs 80 million has been set aside for expeditious disposal of the legal wrangles as directed to the Election Commission of India by the country’s highest court, the Supreme Court.
However, Shah asserts that the commission has not lent its ears to countless complaints of serious violations of the model code of conduct like cash and liquor distribution as well as extravagant, high-tech campaigns. “This clearly proves that the poll panel is not fair and square, and with criminals and crorepatis (millionaires) ruling the roost, elections in India are a farce.”
All said and done, until the government meets people’s expectations by dispensing justice, guaranteeing security and delivering core public services, the well-heeled crooks will continue to win hearts of their voters by delivering the goods in the nick of time.