A former government minister and 12 supporters were arrested Tuesday for allegedly killing a police officer in an attack on a police station in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Jamuna Prasad Nishad was taken into custody by the police and charged with a variety of offences including murder. The incident has brought to focus the criminalisation of politics in India.
Experts say ordinary people should become more involved in the Indian political process to avoid more criminalisation
Nishad and his supporters were reportedly annoyed that an investigation into an alleged rape was being considered a case of molestation -- a lesser charge. On Saturday, Nishad stormed a police station on Saturday in Maharajganj, a town 300 kilometres southeast of the Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow, killing one constable.
He is the third minister in the government of Chief Minister Mayawati to be implicated in criminal cases since she took office in May last year. If convicted, Nishad, who is already under the scanner for several other criminal investigations, could face life in prison.
Chief Minister Mayawati has been prompt to sack the minister and institute a probe into the constable's death. But the enormity of her task to bring clean governance to Uttar Pradesh is not easy, given that in the state elections, 872 candidates across all political parties, of whom 130 finally won, were implicated in criminal cases.
Growing criminalisation of politics
Criminalisation of politics in India is a growing problem despite legal attempts to address it. In 2003, a law was introduced to prohibit the election of criminals or alleged criminals to state or central legislature.
Bibhu Mohapatra of the India Development Foundation who is active in highlighting the criminal backgrounds of candidates thinks the problem is endemic: “Criminalisation is deeply connected with the “winability” of an election and delivery systems in society. People still think that those with criminal backgrounds, if elected, can deliver the goods because there is no other way of accessing those developmental benefits otherwise.”
People with criminal or alleged criminal backgrounds hold seats in assemblies all over the country. In fact, the current statistics show that nearly 23 percent of all members of parliament in India have criminal investigations or cases pending against them. Uttar Pradesh is a case in point.
Getting people more involved
Political analyst Monobina Gupta says people should be more involved in the decision-making process: “I believe that we lack a political culture of honesty and probity where it is part of the system to have a very vigilant local community, which watches its candidates and acts as a watchdog. Instead of that, what we have right now is a system from the top. In order to have a culture of honesty, which is interwoven with the political culture, it is necessary to involve people.”
The problem is especially acute in the northern states of India. Last year, another former Uttar Pradesh minister, Amarmani Tripathi, and his wife were sentenced to life in prison for the murder of the minister's pregnant mistress.
Another former national lawmaker, Anand Mohan, was sentenced to death for his role in the 1994 murder of a government official. It was the first time a member of parliament had received the death penalty in India.
Mohapatra of the India Development Foundation says there is a “two-fold solution” for weeding out politicians with criminal records from the electoral system: “First there has to be a civil society which needs to bypass the political system to access the developmental goals and we have to create that system.”
“Secondly, the law has to be strengthened in terms where the Election Commission and the judiciary are given more powers so that people with criminal backgrounds are prevented from contesting elections.”
Criminals continue to protect the illegitimate interests of politicians and in turn obtain protection from them and their parties. This mutually beneficial relationship has so far worked against the establishment of the rule of law.