Lindsay Pereira: Only criminals need apply

May 05, 2018, 07:24 IST | Lindsay Pereira

Clean chits are just a small part of the quid pro quo on the way to becoming a politician. Will we ever have decent folk representing us?

Of India's 31 chief ministers at this point, 11 have criminal cases against them, and eight have 'serious' cases that include rioting and murder. Illustration/Ravi Jadhav
Of India's 31 chief ministers at this point, 11 have criminal cases against them, and eight have 'serious' cases that include rioting and murder. Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

Lindsay PereiraI urge you to spend a few minutes on Google and look for Indian politicians convicted of crimes. I don't recommend you search for politicians 'accused' of crimes, because that may leave you with very little time to do anything else for the rest of the week. I also warn you against looking for politicians convicted of corruption, or politicians disqualified from office, because both those lists are incredibly short and may depress you.

Also, read a little about the Association for Democratic Reforms, established in 1999 by a group of professors from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, to examine the criminal, financial and educational background of candidates contesting elections. To spend a little time at its website, where it publishes reports analysing elections and their contestants, is to expose oneself to just how awful the people claiming to represent us really are.

A week ago, for instance, the ADR published an analysis of MPs and MLAs with declared cases related to crimes against women. Apparently, out of 1,580 (that's 33 per cent) of MPs/MLAs analysed with declared criminal cases, 45 MPs and 3 MLAs have declared cases related to crimes against women. 327 candidates who had declared cases related to crimes against women were given tickets by recognised political parties. A number of candidates even contested in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha elections, and Maharashtra had the highest number of these gifted representatives. The website also carries a preliminary analysis of candidates announced by major political parties for the Karnataka 2018 Assembly elections, and shows that these parties continue to give tickets to candidates with serious cases.

Here's another thing that ought to concern us but no longer does, presumably because we are inured to information of this sort: Of India's 31 chief ministers at this point, 11 have criminal cases registered against them, and eight have 'serious' criminal cases that include 'voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means', 'rioting', and even murder.

It's easy to see why politicians with a criminal record are more likely to be elected than those who haven't seen the inside of a jail, of course. People who don't commit crimes don't have access to illicit funds, which means they simply can't afford to bribe voters. It's also why the government of our country overturned a Supreme Court ruling demanding the disqualification of any politician convicted for crimes punishable with more than two years in jail. According to the men and women who supposedly represent us, it is more important to maintain political alliances and stay in power than it is to prevent criminals from taking charge of our collective future.

We live in an era where transparency does not exist, where we have no access to information about why some men and women are mysteriously chosen to represent a majority, and where politicians are encouraged to avoid being answerable to their countrymen. We are kept in the dark about why some projects are initiated and others ignored, why deals that don't make sense to anyone with common sense are approved at our expense, and even why our streets are named after people none of us have ever heard of. It's also why no political party has taken concrete steps to encourage the brightest and best among us to run for office. It's also why qualified government officials are often shunted out, because our leaders need minions, not people capable of independent thought. This is why we live in a time where it is always the worst that rise to power the fastest, then dictate terms for the rest of us.

Children ought to aspire to a life of public service because ours is a country that has, at least on paper, always placed the common good above all. Our forefathers sacrificed everything they had to create a country that no longer works for its poorest citizens. The reason why these statistics ought to matter is the kind of message the world's largest democracy is sending to its youngest members. In America, young people are encouraged to nurture the belief that they can be President some day. We probably don't encourage our children to aim for those high offices because we recognise that they may need to have a criminal bent of mind in order to make it.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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