What it means when we elect criminals and the criminally rich

A recent study on the qualifications, assets and criminal records of our elected Parliamentarians has revealed that 83% of 521 sitting MPs are ‘crorepatis’ and 33% of them have criminal cases registered against them.

The report published by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), a non-profit working for electoral reforms, also packs other relevant information about our representatives, making one wonder what goes into the making of a voter’s psyche.

How much wealth do public servants require?

“If you are a crorepati, you are 10 times more likely to win an election in India, says an Association for Democratic Reforms report published in 2018.

“And if you choose to read ‘unfair practices’ into this, you are being quite unfair yourself. The Indian public is discerning. Who wouldn’t prefer a moneybag over a , a gentleman over a wallah? It’s the spirit of democracy that has ushered in 82 crorepati MPs to the Lok Sabha. The edge, however, is with the Rajya Sabha. Not for nothing is it called the ‘Upper House’, with nearly 90 of the members here being millionaires.”

Millionaire MPs – Why political parties backing ‘self-financing’ rich candidates is a wonderful move by the ADR

After self-sworn affidavits of 521 (from a total of 543) members elected to the Lok Sabha in the 2014 elections, the ADR in its latest report finds, to nobody’s surprise, that 483 MPs have eight figures to their name. “While 227 are from the BJP, 37 are from the Congress, and 29 from the AIADMK, among others,” the report said.

This reflects the absence of grassroots figures in national politics, while the landscape itself is the exact opposite of a level playing field.

On one hand, it proves how the political baton is still held by a privileged few, and no, BJP is just as dynastic as the Congress, while underscoring the same disparity in economic wealth accumulation among the masses.

The ADR has found on compilation that average assets per sitting MP for Lok Sabha 2014 elections are ?14.72 crore. To put this in perspectice, an average agricultural household earns Rs 6,426 per month.

However, the economic disparity among different parts of the country is evident not only in terms of per capita income but also in the income declared by politicians in the east as opposed to those in the west. Another analysis of income details furnished by more than 3,000 MLAs across the country by ADR found lawmakers in eastern India have the lowest average annual income.

While the average annual income of 3,145 sitting MLAs has been calculated at ?24.59 lakh, the average income of the eastern region’s 614 MLAs at ?8.53 lakh, is only a little more than a third of that figure. 

According to the latest survey, while 32 MPs have declared more than ?50 crore worth of assets, only two sitting MPs have declared assets of less than ?5 lakh. The likelihood of forming assets by illegal means or misuse of public office is a different issue altogether.

Crimes of all shapes and sizes

At least 106 MPs have declared serious criminal cases including murder, attempt to murder, communal disharmony, kidnapping and crimes against women.

The report says, 10 sitting MPs have declared cases related to murder, out of which, four are from the BJP, and one each from the Congress, NCP, LJP, RJD, Swabhimani Paksha, and an Independent.

“Fourteen sitting MPs have declared cases of attempt to murder. Out of these, eight are from the BJP and one each from the Congress, AITC, NCP, RJD, Shiv Sena and the Swabhimani Paksha.”

Fourteen sitting MPs also declared cases related to causing communal disharmony. Of them, 10 are from the BJP and one each from the TRS, PMK, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen and AIUDF, it added.

Earlier this month, ADR and National Election Watch (NEW) reported there being only 9% women MLAs and MPs across the country in 2019, while hundreds of men with declared cases of crimes against women were given tickets by key political parties, with BJP giving the highest number of tickets to 54, followed by BSP (37) and Congress (30).

Also read: US-based journalist accuses Union Minister MJ Abkar of rape

Why it matters

Ours is a nation where politicians verbally and physically abuse people with disabilities, openly derogate women, furnish fake education degrees and overspend during poll campaigns, and attack minorities in the harshest possible ways. Besides, there are hundreds of other crimes allegedly perpetrated by political outfits and affiliated , including journalist Gauri Lankesh‘s murder, and a bouquet of financial scams handed down from the UPA era, to name a few.

Also read: Aircel-Maxis case: Chidambaram, son named in CBI chargesheet 

Here are three MLAs with declared cases of rape who won from their respective constituencies from 2014-2017.

  • Gonuguntla Suryanarayana for TDP, from Dharmavaram constituency in Andhra Pradesh (2014)
  • Jethabhai G Ahir for BJP from Shehra constituency in Gujarat (2017) 
  • Gulab Yadav for RJD from Jhanjharpur constituency in Bihar (2015) 

All these make a voter’s right to information about contestants an important constitutional right today. It is largely due to the efforts of the trifecta—Professor Trilochan Sastry, lawyer PP Rao justice PV Rao—who oversaw the passage of a crucial PIL; based on this, the Election Commission now mandates all candidates to reveal their criminal, academic (if any) and personal financial details and wealth background.

This was done in order to make the electoral process in India more fair, transparent and equitable—so that we elect representatives with value systems not questionable by law or assets outshining half the population they’re meant to serve.

It is only by exercising the right to information that one can make an informed and conscientious decision before casting the ballot. The ADR report and this nifty database by The Print are just some of the tools that will help on the way to the polling booth.

Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius

ADRCorruptionGeneral Elections 2019Politics