Tue, Oct 15, 2013 - Page 6 News List

In Indian politics, criminal records win votes

CLEANUP EFFORT:While the growing middle class want corrupt politicians driven from office, data shows 30 percent of election winners since 2008 face criminal charges

NY Times News Service, DALTENGANJ, India

When a local anticorruption activist filed a complaint, charging that the visits were a major violation of prison regulations, Prasad decided to keep a “low profile” by receiving visitors only after 3pm, the newspaper reported. His visitors all said the charges were false.

Nationwide, the number of Indian officeholders facing criminal charges is extraordinary: 30 percent of winners in national and regional elections since 2008, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms in New Delhi.

The reasons are manifold; as India’s democratic system evolved, candidates depended heavily on thuggish “muscle men,” and later “money men,” to influence voters and sweep them into office. Corruption is widespread.

However, it is also true that spending limits are so low that virtually any candidate bent on winning would have to be willing to break the law. The penalty for filing false charges is negligible. And India’s independence movement was founded on civil disobedience, so lawbreaking is enmeshed in the political culture.

It is not yet clear whether this will change now, said Neerja Chowdhury, a journalist and political commentator. Major parties may steer clear of candidates facing criminal charges, fearful of losing a seat in case of disqualification, she said.

However, corruption, she added, “is more of an urban middle-class issue rather than for groups who are in ascendance.”

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