LS polls: Dismantling politico-criminal nexus difficult until parties stop prioritising 'winnability' above all else

The least political parties can do ahead of the Lok Sabha polls is shed the pretense of being different.

Shishir Tripathi March 29, 2019 20:28:40 IST
LS polls: Dismantling politico-criminal nexus difficult until parties stop prioritising 'winnability' above all else
  • Most parties choose a candidate with 'winnability'

  • It becomes problematic when it overshadows all other criteria

  • The least they can do is shed the pretense of being different

To escape a major embarrassment, the Congress  decided not to field former Uttar Pradesh minister Amarmani Tripathi's daughter Tanushree in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections after announcing her candidature Thursday.

Amarmani Tripathi is serving a life sentence in a murder case, along with his wife who was a co-accused. On 28 March, Congress released the names of 31 candidates for Lok Sabha elections. Among the six candidates named from Uttar Pradesh, Tanushree's name figured in the list. Congress decided to field her from the Maharajganj Lok Sabha, a seat from where her father earlier contested.

However, according to sources, following a protest Tanushree's name was dropped at the direct intervention of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. While the decision to replace her with another candidate saved Congress from some embarrassment, the fact that her candidature was finalised and announced hints at the fact that political parties, most often than not, sidestep and overlook a lot of things to pick a candidate with 'winnability'.

LS polls Dismantling politicocriminal nexus difficult until parties stop prioritising winnability above all else

Representational image. Reuters

In May 2003, the murder of 24-year-old Madhumita Shukla, a budding poetess from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, caused a political storm. The prime accused in the case was Amarmani Tripathi, who was the then minister in Uttar Pradesh government led by Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party. While BSP defended him, the Samajwadi Party, the main Opposition party in Uttar Pradesh called for his resignation. Several attempts were made to suppress the case initially, however, following a huge media uproar the case was transferred to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) who arrested Tripathi after his DNA sample matched that of the foetus of Madhumita's Shukla unborn child. Shukla was pregnant at the time of her murder.

As the case progressed, Mayawati resigned after differences with coalition partner Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) and in August 2003 Samajwadi Party formed the government with Mulayam Singh Yadav as chief minister. And this is where Tripathi, who joined Samajwadi Party after Mayawati’s resignation, played an important role. Mulayam, who was looking for allies to form an alternative government, found Tripathi, who readily helped as he needed political patronage to insulate him from the probable arrest in the murder case.

After Tripathi was arrested in September that year, Mulayam showed sympathy and support when he made it clear that his party would take no action against him. However, SP's coalition partner Congress called Tripathi a ‘blot’ on politics.

In October 2007, when a special court in Dehradun sentenced Tripathi, his wife Madhumani and two others to life imprisonment in the murder case, it seemed that this was the end of the man who thrived on muscle power and money. SP, however, later fielded Tripathi from the Maharajganj seat in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

His son Aman Mani Tripathi got a Samajwadi Party ticket in 2012 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections but lost. In 2016, before Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, former SP leader Shivpal announced his candidature from Nautanwa seat, a family stronghold. But with CBI charging Aman Mani for allegedly murdering his wife, he could not get the confidence of Akhilesh Yadav, who by then had taken over the reins of SP from his father. However, Aman Mani contested as an Independent and won.

Aman Mani also made efforts to join the BJP in April 2017 after sharing the stage with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Congress UP spokesperson Ashok Singh criticised Adityanath for the same. Now, two years later, the Congress decided to field Amarmani's daughter. Earlier, she was offered ticket by Shivpal from his newly-formed party.

The political trajectory of Amarmani Tripathi is not an isolated story. It is also not a simple telltale of criminalisation of politics, which is an open secret. Rather, it is a disturbing trend wherein political parties, cutting across ideologies, region, and leadership prize ‘winnability’ in elections as the most important criteria for selecting candidates. While ‘winnability’ is an obvious criteria, it becomes problematic for democracy when it overshadows all other criteria.

In Amarmani Tripathi’s case, all major political parties in the state chose to field, shelter, protect and promote a man and then his progeny, in spite of several allegations of crime and corruption. The fact that he was a minister in three different regimes speaks of his ‘importance’ and the reason for this is simple and straightforward. They might draw a blank on the yardsticks of ethics, but successfully draw huge crowds and voters in elections.

This reveals three strands that have been brilliantly articulated by Milan Vaishnav’s book ‘When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics’, which is a comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon in Indian politics that the likes of Amarmani tend to represent. The first question: Why do criminals enter politics? The second question: Why do political parties field such candidates? The third question:  Why do people vote for them?

As to why voters prefer such candidates, Vaishnav goes beyond the ‘ignorant lot’ hypothesis and sees it as an attempt by the voters to secure an extra-legal avenue to protect their interests in the wake of weakening public institutions. On the other hand, why criminals enter politics does not require much analysis. It is amply clear that political patronage and power gives them a shield that insulates them, to a great extent, from the heat of the law.

The reason for parties choosing such candidates is most important strand and emanates from an interesting fact backed by sound research and facts in Viashanav’s book. According to his research and analysis it is ‘winnability’ that is the main reason.

“Across the past three general elections, “clean” candidates had a win rate of six percent. The win rate for candidates facing a charge of any type, by contrast, was just above 17 percent, and those facing serious charges had an 18 percent chance of winning. While there is some variation in the prevalence of candidates with criminal cases across parties, this is not an issue facing any one political party or type of party: It is clear that criminality in politics is widespread”, Vaishnav wrote.

Given this fact it becomes clear that ‘winnability’ will always be the first concern of political parties, and they can hardly ignore those who fetch “valuable votes”. However, least they can do is to shed the pretense of being different.

There are several cases to cite and support this trend of candidates with tainted backgrounds and criminal records being preferred by political parties. In Uttar Pradesh, dreaded mafia don Mukhtar Ansari, who has several criminal cases registered against him, has been Member of the UP Legislative Assembly five times. He was the prime accused in the murder of another MLA from Uttar Pradesh named Krishnanand Rai. Ansari won his first election on BSP ticket.

Atique Ahmed, who was first accused in a murder case at the age of 17, is another example. There are more than 40 criminal cases registered against him and he was also accused of the murder of BSP MLA Raju Pal, who defeated Atique's brother Ashraf in the 2004 Uttar Pradesh state legislature elections. He contested elections from Samajwadi Party (SP) and Apna Dal.

Hari Shankar Tiwari is another name that resonates quite well with those aware of mafia-politics links in Uttar Pradesh. Tiwari was perhaps the first public figure in Indian political history to be elected to the legislature from prison. He has been a cabinet minister at the state Assembly in several governments, including the Kalyan Singh (Bharatiya Janata Party) government and Mulayam Singh Yadav (Samajwadi Party) government.

In Bihar, the name of Pappu Yadav is synonymous with ‘bahubali’ wielding political power. He won Lok Sabha elections in 1991, 1996, 1999, and in 2004 from several constituencies in Bihar as an Independent, Lok Janata Party and RJD candidate. He was convicted for murder of Communist Party of India (Marxist) MLA Ajit Sarkar that took place in 1998 by the sessions court and spent over five years in jail as a life term convict before being acquitted by the Patna High court.

Mohammad Shahabuddin is yet another name that comes to mind. Shahabuddin was elected four times as a Member of Parliament from Siwan, Bihar, on Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) ticket. He was accused in several serious criminal cases and has been convicted in many. In March 2007, a Siwan court sentenced him to two years' imprisonment in an assault case. In May 2007, he was convicted in an abduction case. He was also accused in the murder of JNU student union leader Chandrashekar Prasad, which occurred in 1997.

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