Criminalization of Politics: A Threat to India’s Policy-Making Process

    • By,
      Jnaneswara D. Koripella – Student, Kautilya

As the largest democracy in the world, India has been grappling with a recurring and complex problem: the widespread menace of Criminalization of Politics. This complex issue not only undermines democratic principles but also harms the difficult process of developing and enacting public policy. A long shadow has been cast over the course of the country’s progress due to the predominance of individuals with criminal backgrounds dominating politics.

‘Criminalization’ of Politics:

In India, the term “criminalization of politics” refers to the rise in the number of people with criminal histories participating in politics. According to the ADR report, 306 out of the 763 sitting MPs that were examined (about 40%) had filed criminal complaints against themselves. The ADR analysis encompassed that out of 4033 MLA’s serving in India, 1136 MLA’s are having criminal record. Several factors have contributed to the growth of the relationship between politics and crime, including the relationship between politicians and organized crime, the use of coercion during elections, and the abuse of legal loopholes.

The Spectre of Threats

A culture of intimidation and repression is the direct consequence of the involvement of criminal groups in politics. Policies are created to defend the interests of criminal networks, which maintains an environment of fear in the minds of the common masses, eventually undermining opposition and causing institutions to fail. A minister in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh threatened to “electrically shock” voters if they pressed any button on the electronic voting machines (EVMs) in their polling places other than those designated for the candidate for his political party. This example highlights the extent of the use of force and fear in the democratic process of elections.

Breach of Rule of Law:

Since individuals in charge of creating and upholding laws may also be lawbreakers, the criminalization of politics threatens the integrity of the legal system. On June 25, 1975, the then Prime Minister of India announced a state of emergency, citing domestic unrest and dangers to national security. Up until March 21, 1977, this state of emergency persisted. In Indian history, the declaration of the ‘state of emergency’ was a contentious and major event that sparked serious questions about democratic values and the rule of law. Throughout the emergency, a large number of opposition individuals, activists, and political leaders were detained. The detention of opposition leaders aroused concerns concerning the government’s motives and dedication to democratic values.

Embittered Legislative Procedure & Deterioration of Public Trust:

The presence of politicians with criminal histories jeopardizes the credibility of the legislative process. Such politicians often further their own interests instead of the general welfare. People lose faith in the political system when they see people with dubious backgrounds holding positions of authority. About 40% of the sitting MP’s have criminal cases against them.

The Indian state of Jharkhand was the site of the 2005 discovery of the “Cash-for-Questions” scam. Members of Parliament (MPs) were caught on tape taking cash in exchange for asking particular questions in the Indian Parliament and were at the centre of the controversy. Tehelka, a news outlet, conducted the operation, exposing the corruption with the help of concealed cameras. Not only did this scandal damage the legislative process, but it also reduced public confidence in the honesty of elected officials.

Adverse Impact on the Formulation of Policy:

The ramifications of criminals entering India’s political sphere for policy formation are extensive. Policies that are formed to suit personal interests rather than the benefit of the public are far more likely to be formulated when people with criminal records occupy positions of authority. The 2G spectrum fraud stands out as one of the most notorious cases of purported political influence on policy-making in India. In 2008, it entailed the arbitrary distribution of 2G spectrum licenses at artificially low costs, which resulted in a large loss for the exchequer.

Personal Gain Distortions of Policy:

Politicians with criminal histories may try to sway laws to their advantage by using their power. This may be shown in how resources are distributed, laws are put into effect, and benefits are distributed. As the diversion of government funds take away from real developmental endeavors, these distortions in policymaking impede the nation’s advancement. In West Bengal, India, there has been a persistent SSC scam concerning teacher recruitment from 2022. The scandal came to light after a minister from the Trinamool Congress government was arrested on July 23, 2022. In relation to the recruiting scam, he was detained by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on suspicion of money laundering. Previously the minister and his colleagues had assets confiscated by the ED valued at Rs 50 crore (US$6.25 million).Another frequent way that politicians misuse their position of authority for personal benefit is corruption. A fodder scam occurred in Bihar in the year 1996, where money intended to be used for buying cow feed was embezzled. Fraud, dishonesty, and misappropriation of public funds in the provision of essential services were brought to light by the Bihar fodder scam. The importance of transparency and accountability in government spending was also emphasized.

The criminalization of politics is threatening the fundamental underpinnings of democracy and the rule of law. More public knowledge, greater openness, stricter voting reforms, and political movements and initiatives like India against corruption (IAC), Right To Information Act (RTI), Jagore are essential to counter this threat. Above all, there needs to be a commitment to fortify the legislative framework pertaining to electoral politics. Strict legislation is necessary to guarantee that people with criminal records are not permitted to run for office or assume public office. Furthermore, political parties are crucial in determining the nature of the political environment. Parties must implement strict internal procedures for selecting candidates, giving preference to those with spotless backgrounds and a dedication to public service. Ultimately, giving law enforcement organizations and election commissions the freedom to operate independently of politics is critical.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.