Despite the order by the Supreme Court and the Election Commission of India (ECI), political parties have not provided any reasons for selecting a total of 212 candidates with criminal backgrounds to contest in the 2022 assembly polls. The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has revealed in its recent report that a total of 3,215 candidates were fielded by 33 political parties this year in five assembly polls, of which, 1,178 candidates had a criminal background. According to the ADR report, out of the 1,178 candidates with criminal backgrounds, reasons for their nominations were provided only for 966 candidates.
Assembly elections were held in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Punjab this year.
The report asked why candidates without criminal backgrounds were not selected. To this, instead of giving a clear answer, it was justified by some political parties that their candidates were most likely to win the election.
In Uttar Pradesh, political parties have cited reasons for selecting 689 (83 percent) out of 827 candidates with criminal cases and 511 (82 percent) out of 623 candidates with serious criminal cases. The political parties concerned have not given any reason for the selection of the remaining 138 candidates (17 percent).
The report says that 224 candidates with criminal backgrounds contested on the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party’s tickets in the UP Assembly polls, followed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) (169), the Congress (160), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) (153), the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) (62), and the Asaduddin Owaisi-led All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) (40).
This year in UP Assembly polls, a total of 1,991 candidates were fielded from different political parties, of which, more than 40 percent of the candidates had criminal backgrounds.
In Uttarakhand, a reason for being nominated was provided for at least 64 (84 percent) out of 76 candidates with criminal backgrounds, but not for the remaining 12 candidates. The Congress fielded 23 candidates with criminal backgrounds in the 2022 Uttarakhand Assembly polls, followed by the AAP (15), the BJP (13), and the BSP (10).
The report further revealed that the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP is the worst in terms of hiding the details of criminal charges of its candidates in the public domain. It says that the AAP fielded a total of 144 candidates in this year’s assembly polls, who were facing criminal charges, and did not disclose the criminal charges on at least 63 candidates.
In the Punjab Assembly polls, a total of 58 candidates with criminal backgrounds were fielded on AAP tickets, second highest after the Shiromani Akali Dal (65). Out of the 463 contesting candidates analysed, 177 (38 percent) candidates belonging to the aforementioned political parties have declared criminal cases against themselves for the 2022 polls.
On the other hand, political parties concerned have not provided any reason for selecting 31 candidates (18 percent) with criminal antecedents. In Goa, 29 candidates(51 percent) with criminal charges have not been cited by the parties concerned for the selection. The political parties have not given reasons for selecting two (5 percent) candidates with criminal backgrounds in Manipur.
Supreme Court Order And ECI Direction
In February 2020, the Supreme Court had directed all the political parties to list out reasons on their websites, social media platforms, and local and national newspapers, for nominating candidates with criminal backgrounds, within 72 hours of the selection of such candidates.
Soon after the Supreme Court’s order, the ECI stated:
1) It is mandatory for political parties at the central and state election level to upload on their website detailed information regarding candidates with pending criminal cases, including the nature of offences, relevant particulars like whether charges have been framed, the concerned court, the case number, and so on.
2) Political parties will also have to give reasons for such selections, and why other individuals without criminal antecedents could not be selected as candidates.
3) The reasons as to selection shall be with reference to the qualifications, achievements and merit of the candidate concerned, and not mere “winnability” at the polls.
4) This information shall also be published in: (a) One local vernacular newspaper and one national newspaper; (b) On the official social media platforms of the political party, including Facebook and Twitter.
Ahead of this year’s assembly polls in five states, the ECI said that it’s mandatory for political parties to upload details about their candidates’ criminal charges along with the reasons for selecting them to fight elections under their party banner.
An Alarming Situation
During his judgment in 2020, Justice Rohinton Nariman said that there is a rise in criminals facing heinous charges like rape and murder encroaching into the country’s political and electoral scenes.
Justice Nariman further said that over the last four general elections, the country has seen a significant increase in the incidence of criminals in politics.
In 2004, 24 percent of the Members of Parliament had criminal cases pending against them. In 2009, this statistic went up to 30 percent; in 2014 to 34 percent; and in 2019, as many as 43 percent of MPs had criminal cases pending against them.