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Nearly three years after the beginning of the first Anna Hazare-led “India Against Corruption” campaign and after the initial successes of the Aam Aadmi Party, one might have thought that parties would have got the message when it came to selecting their candidates. Corruption and scams were an important factor behind the Congress’s fall, but has the Lok Sabha got cleaner in the process?
The only source we have at our disposal to assess the criminal profile of politicians is the candidates’ affidavits, published by the Election Commission of India and made actually readable and usable by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR). This data is considered reliable because it can be verified against judicial records, unlike the data on the candidates’ assets, which are self-declared and liable to blatant under-evaluation.
According to these sources, 187 sitting MPs face criminal charges (34.4 per cent) and, among them, 113 MPs face serious criminal charges (20.8 per cent), serious charges being loosely defined as violent crimes against individuals or groups. If we look at the candidates of the main parties as a whole excluding independents and local party candidates, 849 candidates out of 3,293 (25.8 per cent) have criminal cases against them, and among them, 535 (16.2 per cent) have serious cases against them.
The BJP is ahead of the Congress in terms of tainted candidates (33 per cent against 27.7 per cent); candidates with serious charges (20.8 per cent against 13 per cent); and the ratio of tainted MPs (35 per cent against 18 per cent). For the Lok Sabha MPs in general, this represents an increase of 4.4 per cent and 6.8 per cent respectively, compared to 2009.
However, we would like to argue that these numbers misrepresent the issue. Efforts to make public life more transparent, and therefore more accountable, are commendable and necessary. But the method that consists of aggregating crime data and producing a single headline figure, aimed at building the perception of the political class as being highly criminalised, is misleading on several counts. The simple aggregation of criminal charges blurs the variation in the nature of crimes and creates a generic indistinctive criminal profile.
Second, it ignores the continued…