The black heart of Indian politics

TWO DAYS before polling begins in the world's biggest election, there is little doubt about the most important issue - and it is nothing to do with policies. It is the infestation of Indian politics by criminals.

It is not a party issue, because no party, except arguably the Communists, is untainted. To speak of sleaze would be to indulge in quaint understatement. India's problems are not free nights at the Ritz or cash for questions, nor are they limited to kickbacks from government contracts. India's nightmare is the likely election to parliament of dozens of mainstream candidates who are hardened, violent criminals, often gang leaders, several of them with multiple murders to their name.

On Thursday a panel consisting of a retired Supreme Court judge and three other upstanding citizens, sponsored by the weekly magazine Outlook, presented the findings of their research into the criminalisation of Indian politics. More than 4,000 candidates are contesting this election. The panel had the resources to examine 500 of those in the mainstream parties. Of those, more than 70, in the panel's judgement, deserve to be barred from standing.

"To have true democracy in this country," said Justice Kuldip Singh, a former Supreme Court judge, "... there must be stringent laws barring those who have criminal records from participating in the elections."

It may come as a surprise that India has no such law. At present any citizen can stand for election in India unless they have had a criminal conviction upheld by the Supreme Court. In theory this ought to be enough to keep the criminals out but so long-drawn-out is the judicial process, and so susceptible to political pressure, that many confirmed, indeed outrageous criminals, are strolling the corridors of power.

Phoolan Devi, the "bandit queen" from the ravines of Madhya Pradesh, is only the most infamous example. After shooting to death 22 upper-caste villagers in revenge for being raped and abused years earlier, the female gang leader was held in prison for 11 years without being brought to trial. When members of her own caste came to power in the state she was released, and is now running for a second term as the Samajwadi Party's candidate for Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh.

It is the "Hindi belt" of impoverished North Indian states, including Uttar Pradesh, which provide the most flagrant examples of the criminalisation of politics.

Uttar Pradesh is the biggest state in the Union: with a population of 140 million, if it were a sovereign country it would be the eighth biggest in the world, bigger than Japan. Last October the state was the scene of a power struggle between two chief ministers. The victorious minister, Kalyan Singh, clinched his triumph by luring dozens of representatives to his side of the chamber with promises of ministerial posts. The result was the biggest cabinet in Indian history, 93 members, of which at least 17 had criminal backgrounds. The new ministers included Hari Shankar Tiwari, a gang leader with nine murder cases pending against him, and Prem Prakash Singh, the "Terror of Terai", accused of two cases of murder and three of attempted murder.

What made Kalyan Singh's coup all the more perturbing was that he is a prominent member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu Nationalist Party which has long asserted that it is the only party of principle left in the country. By this cynical manoeuvre Kalyan Singh indicated that the BJP is just opportunistic as its rivals. The BJP was briefly in power at the centre last year, and may well win the coming election.

The political rise of the "Goondas" or Mafiosi reflects the fact that much of the Indian hinterland is still in the grip of feudalistic overlords who control their communities through menace and terror. The rapid succession of expensive elections, and the absence of real policy issues, has brought a frightening symbiosis into being: between the political parties on the one hand, strapped for cash and eager for winnable candidates; and cash-happy Goondas, glad of a way to launder their funds and legitimise their power.

"Most political parties are prepared to embrace them for the power they can exercise over their caste or community with their ferocious image, " wrote Alok Sharma recently in The Pioneer.

The ultimate blame for this state of affairs is laid at the door of Indira Gandhi, who, while prime minister in the Seventies, removed the ceiling on election expenditure, thus practically inviting gangsters to parley their black money into political power through the election process. The consequence is seen in the benighted condition of huge tracts of Northern India, which look exactly as desperate and lawless as you would expect of places ruled by outlaws.

News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
News
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary
people

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
art

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Sport
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission, 1st yr OTE £30-£40k : SThree:...

Middleware Support Analyst

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Senior Java Developer/Designer

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: My client are looking fo...

Domino Developer and Administrator

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Domino ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?