Mon, Jun 17, 2019 - Page 5 News List

New Indian parliament sets record for criminal suspects

LOWER HOUSE:Nearly 43 percent of newly elected members face charges, including 116 of the BJP’s 303 winners. Analysts say parties seem to prize electability over ethics

AP, NEW DELHI

Newly elected lawmaker Pragya Singh Thakur, center in orange, greets other lawmakers on her arrival at meeting of lawmakers from the Bharatiya Janata Party and its alliance in New Delhi, India, on May 25.

Photo: AP

India’s recent national election delivered a historic victory to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but also exposed the influence of money, power and questionable morality on the world’s largest democracy.

Nearly 43 percent of the new members of the lower house of parliament that convenes today for the first time since the election won despite facing criminal charges.

More than a quarter of those relate to rape, murder or attempted murder, according to a report by the civic group Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR).

The loophole that allows them to take office is that they have not been convicted — in part because the Indian legal system has a huge backlog of an estimated 30 million cases and trials often last decades.

When asked about the charges against them, they invariably accuse a political rival of framing them.

Since such rivalries often lead to false accusations, the main political parties say it would be unfair to bar people from contesting elections unless they have been convicted.

Under existing laws, only those who have been sentenced to prison for two years or more can be barred from elections.

Members of parliament with criminal backgrounds is not a new phenomenon in India, but despite Modi’s campaign vow in 2014 to clean up corruption and the influence of money in politics, the problem appears to be only growing worse.

In the 2004 national election, the percentage of candidates with pending criminal cases was 24 percent, which rose to 33 percent in 2009, 34 percent in 2014 and 43 percent this year, former chief election commissioner Shahabuddin Quraishi said.

The association found that 116 of the 303 lawmakers from Modi’s BJP elected last month face criminal charges, including one for alleged terrorism.

Pragya Singh Thakur, who won a seat from Bhopal, is awaiting trial in connection with a 2008 explosion in Malegaon in western India that killed seven people.

Twenty-nine of the opposition Congress party’s 52 lawmakers face serious charges.

“This trend has been growing in India, leaving no political party untouched. We need to educate voters not to elect these people,” ADR founder Jagdeep Chhokar said.

“What the Indian state has been unable to provide, strongmen promise to deliver to people in their area of influence, using gun and money power,” said Lennin Rasghuvanshi, a coordinator with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.

Starting in the 1960s and 1970s, some Indian politicians began turning to the criminal underworld for cash to win votes.

“In due course, the criminals started thinking that these politicians were winning because of their money or crimes so why shouldn’t they become lawmakers themselves? If they are people running from the police, they know that when they became lawmakers, the same police will protect them,” Quraishi said.

In Uttar Pradesh state in northern Indian, former mafia don Mukhtar Ansari has been elected to the state assembly five times despite more than 40 criminal cases pending against him, including murder.

Another don-turned-politician, Hari Shankar Tiwari, also of Uttar Pradesh, has been a member of the legislative assembly for 23 years, even winning an election while being detained on murder charges.

During the campaign, Election Commission officials and government agencies seized mountains of cash, alcohol, gold and silver, saris and expensive watches in the offices of political parties that were intended as gifts in exchange for votes.

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