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One-third of Indian MPs face charges

More than 150 of those elected to the Indian parliament this month are facing criminal charges, according to a study.

AD200910705239799AR
AD200910705239799AR

NEW DELHI // Nearly one-third of the candidates elected to the Indian parliament this month are facing criminal charges, according to a study conducted by the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR). Out of 543 elected members, 153, or 28 per cent, have criminal proceedings against them at various stages, with the charges ranging from serious offences such as murder and rioting to petty theft. The number surpasses that of the previous parliament, which had 128 members facing charges.

Leading the list is Kamleshwar Baitha, of the regional party Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. He was elected from Palamauin Jharkhand and has 67 criminal cases pending against him. They include 17 involving murder, 22 for attempted murder and two for kidnapping. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) tops the list among parties. Forty-three out of its 116 elected members have criminal cases pending. The party fielded 113 candidates who face charges in the elections.

The report is based on information supplied by the candidates to the Election Commission. ADR, a network of non-governmental organisations from across India, launched a countrywide campaign for electoral reforms and decriminalisation of Indian politics. "It is disturbing, we conducted several surveys and almost in all of them voters clearly stated that they do not want a candidate with criminal antecedents, but parties still continue to put them in parliament and the electorate has sometimes very little choice to choose from," said Anil Bairwal, ADR's national co-ordinator.

BJP's Varun Gandhi, who is facing criminal charges on six counts, including creating ethnic disharmony and rioting, secured his seat in the parliament by a majority of 250,000 votes. A senior BJP leader, Seshadri Chari, disputed the claims made by ADR, saying none of the BJP elected candidates has any criminal proceedings pending. "As far as BJP is concerned we made it a point that only law-abiding candidates will be fielded in the elections. The history of each candidate is verified by the election commission. However, if a candidate has deliberately concealed such facts the party will take action against them," he said.

"Most of the people which refer to these cases are vendetta cases and we have to understand the difference between serious offences and political vengeance." The Congress party, which won 204 seats in the election, fielded 114 candidates facing charges, out of which 41 candidates were elected to lower house of the parliament for a five-year term. The Congress candidate Kunvarjibhai Mohanbhai Bavaliya, who was elected from Rajkot in Gujarat, faces six criminal cases, including murder charges.

The new United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, led by Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, has made it clear that it will not induct candidates who face charges into the cabinet. The previous UPA government had several ministers who were under investigation. The ADR report did note a decrease in the number of parliament members facing serious charges. In the previous parliament there were 432 serious charges against the members, which has come down to 268 this time.

"Voters were educated and aware this time, the number of members with serious cases has gone down considerably and we hope in future this will hit the bottom. "Most importantly candidates with murder cases have come down by almost 50 per cent but we stand for zero per cent tolerance to criminal candidates," Mr Bairwal, ADR's national co-ordinator, said. In 2002, the Supreme Court made it mandatory for the candidates to disclose their educational, financial and criminal backgrounds.

The Representation of the People's Act, amended in 2006, bars people sentenced to jail for two or more years from contesting the elections. "The government should bring in legislation to completely stop criminals from getting into parliament. There cannot be different parameters for citizens in a democracy when it comes to a justice system. It is ironic that an ordinary citizen cannot get a job with even a small criminal record but one can become a prime minster, chief minister or cabinet minister above a lawmaker, with a murder charge against him," Mr Bairwal said.

"Once a person becomes a lawmaker he gets a status in the society. Almost he is above the law. You cannot stop him." jandrabi@gmail.com