Why Supreme Court ruling won't keep criminals out of politics

In an ideal world, no politician would have a criminal past or present. Crime and politics would be worlds apart, and courts would not be intervening to stop criminals from becoming politicians and vice versa. But let’s get real. Politics in actual world is much more complex. It does not render itself easily to idealistic propositions. Courts may succeed in keeping criminals out of representative institutions, but they cannot keep them out of politics. At the ground level, where politics plays out rough and dirty, both worlds have a symbiotic existence.

In an ideal world, politics would be synonymous with discipline. There would be perfect democracy within parties, well laid out succession plans, transparent funding process, intra-party grievance redressal mechanisms, an age of retirement for senior leaders and enough scope for the younger generation to make it to the top. There would be no dynasties, no puppeteer pulling the strings of parties, no grumpy veteran, no cut-throat competition within and no insecurity and machinations. An LK Advani would fade away with grace and dignity and there would be no effort from a Narendra Modi to manufacture loud support; a Rahul Gandhi wouldn’t keep his party waiting on whether he wants to lead it or not. And of course, we would not be talking of oxymorons such as polarising leaders.

Unfortunately, in a country like India where a bewildering variety of interests, both genuine and illegal, express themselves through power politics, the gap between the ideal and the actual is massive. That is one reason it is easy to be sceptical of the efficacy of the Supreme Court’s judgement on keeping convicted politicians out of the business of lawmaking.

 Why Supreme Court ruling wont keep criminals out of politics

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Political parties need criminals as much the criminals need the former. At the local level, assertion of political influence and power takes place through violence. Politics is truly violent and bloodthirsty in villages of our country. We know of the fights between the Left and the Congress cadre in Kerala stretching for generations, between the Left and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, Congress and political rivals in some states and betwen Sangh Parivar elements and the Congress in others. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar have made a name for themselves for never ending political violence. There’s no point singling out states or parties. The fact is such violence is intrinsic to our political culture.

The crude nature of our politics at the basic level is the reason parties either outsource toughs and ensure protection for themselves while in power, or they promote them in-house. Now, if political violence is an actual crime, how many parties can claim to be free from criminals? Not many of these muscle-men are keen on being popular and getting elected. That being the case, does the Supreme Court verdict mean much? The association between criminals and politicians will continue in spite of it. The advantage for the parties is they can plead helplessness when goons seek party tickets. But they will need to compensate in other ways.

There’s another way to look at the presence of criminals in the system. Many of them, particularly in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, have been winning elections without the support of any political party. Rogues they might be, but the electoral victories don’t happen in a vacuum or just through the use of coercive tactics. They bridge the gap between the government’s delivery mechanism and the popular requirements well enough to earn respect from people they represent. Intimidation tactics work well with the apathetic bureaucratic apparatus sometimes. If these leaders are disqualified from contesting elections, they would manage to get a family member or a proxy candidate elected and continue to enjoy power. This wouldn't be anything new in the country. The real challenge is to break the stranglehold of such people on their constituencies. It requires a political solution, and no Supreme Court verdict will change the situation.

Most criminals join electoral politics to further their illegal businesses. Political power is a means to ensuring smooth operation of their businesses without hassles from the police machinery. But they would settle for giving up political power, if political parties promise protection to them in exchange for muscle power. This has been happening across the country. Politicians like Mukhtar Ansari, Raja Bhaiyya and Mohammad Shahabuddin could definitely survive without being directly in power.

The current scenario in Indian politics is nowhere close to the ideal vision of politics that thinkers would like to imagine. The intervention of the courts and the Election Commission might bring cosmetic changes, but it won’t bring lasting solutions. What would be of help to set things in order? Steps taken by political parties themselves, with a push from the civil society organisations.

The country must acknowledge that there are serious problems in our electoral system and these don’t render themselves to easy, idealistic solutions.

Updated Date: Jul 12, 2013 07:10:01 IST