September 27, 2022

India’s Election Circus 2022 (Part I)

Should lack of appropriate law be used to let goons and those with criminal charges against them contest upcoming elections? This is a matter of serious concern specially when we talk of insecurity to the nation and its people

By Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

Election dates have been announced for five out of seven states due for assembly elections in 2022. Uttar Pradesh is the star focus and the great Indian election circus is in motion. This is but the trailer of the five-yearly mega event scheduled in 2024. Keeping in mind general elections due in 2024, everyone will claim by the end of this year Tiger (or Tigress) Abhi Zinda Hai. After all Chanakya had said, “Even if a snake is not venomous, it should act as one.”

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) always gets hyperactive closer to elections with opposition parties crying “political vendetta”. But what can poor ED do Jab Har Shakh Pe Ullu Baitha Hai and depending on which political party the ullus switch to, one can even enjoy Ghar Baithe Ganga Snan. Besides, job protection is more important for ED than who wins and who loses, given that holes in the Anti-Defection Law have been deliberately left with consensus of political parties. TV news of January 24 said an ED joint director is joining BJP and likely to contest elections.  

A Facebook friend posted the following few weeks ago: “Please see our polity. These honourables had the rare unanimity to pass a bill on OBCs by states with 386-0 and just refuse to fathom what Swami Vivekananda ji had preached. Abolish the curse of caste and learn how top nations are thriving with their rock solid development in technology and thus reaping the benefits of the economy. “Sisters and brothers of America, we need that religion which absorbs even the most downtrodden men and women into the manifold” is what he said. Our polity has learned nothing from this greatest monk. Instead of handling this most important equality and inclusive issue plaguing the nation right by the Centre, these guys have shirked the responsibility and passed on the hot potato to states. Cowardice, just bring a bill and say, only economic criteria decide all Government, social and welfare schemes. First make assistance based on economic status and then consign caste based reservation to flames. Feeling sad that while the entire developed world has followed Swamiji’s principles but his own nation has scoffed at him. Caste system is making our people weak, weak and weak and must be dumped asap. Tweeting to the honourable PM.”

Above would reflect the majority public view, exceptions being the politicians who simply want to hold on to power, and the deep state. Recall the unanimous political consensus to amend the FCRA Bill with retrospect in 2014 when the Election Commission (EC) questioned the Congress and the BJP their sources of foreign funding.

The Centre has rejected demands for caste census but every political party including the BJP keeps caste calculations updated. Caste, creed, OBC and Dalit cards will continue to be played. Haven’t we witnessed Chief Ministers and entire cabinets replaced because revised caste calculations require different politicians to win coming elections?

A new low is counting Hindu and Jat voters separately in Western UP after the farmer agitation. Creed having become centrestage in Indian politics, there are news items like ‘NDA fields first Muslim in UP since 2014’; BJP ally Apna Dal (S) has named Congress veteran Haider Ali Khan as its candidate for the Suar assembly seat in UP. Interestingly, Congress had declared the same individual their candidate on January 13 this year. But which party has better persuading-cum-purchasing power matters. Those denied tickets invariably switch political parties and smarter ‘political families’ have a member each in more than one political party notwithstanding the façade that “political families” are restricted only to an odd some political party.

It does not matter whether the candidate has serious criminal charges against him, is a drunkard, a religious zealot, uneducated, holds a fake degree or is an imbecile. The sole requirement is to meet the ‘winnability’ criteria: caste, creed, muscle power, intimidation, money power, false promises and free lollipops, whatever. If questions come up later how did the donkey climb the pole, the blame will always fall on the voters – you chose him, didn’t you? How public opinion is swayed with fake propaganda does not matter albeit directing the same effort externally, we could psyche China and Pakistan to our advantage. A cross section of voters also say their dilemma is of not much choice; hence, Andhon Mein Kana Behtar Hai.

On August 9, 2018, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra deposing on a petition to debar candidates with criminal background from contesting elections, said constitutional courts are mandated only to declare the law and not legislate, and though SC recognises public grievance of rising criminalisation of politics, additions to Article 102 of the Constitution and Provisions of the People Act provided grounds for disqualification from contesting polls can only be made by Parliament. CJI Misra further said, “It is a serious issue. We have to remind Parliament that it has a constitutional obligation to amend Article 102 (e). We say this as the conscience keeper of the Constitution.”

But nothing has really changed other than some peripheral instructions because Jab Parliament Hi Paji, Toh Kya Kareaga Kazi. The media is going crazy about goons and gangsters being given tickets to contest upcoming elections. Azam Khan in jail finds prominent mention with his black deeds and nickname Buffalo Bill (not after serial killer Gary Heidnik) but because his buffalos would run off at night and the UP police was tasked to chase and round them up periodically. Aside from him, gangster Nihad too is a candidate of Samajwadi Party (SP) contesting UP elections. There is also news about the main culprit in Delhi Riots contesting elections in Punjab from another party.

But nothing has really changed other than some peripheral instructions because Jab Parliament Hi Paji, Toh Kya Kareaga Kazi. The media is going crazy about goons and gangsters being given tickets to contest upcoming elections. Azam Khan in jail finds prominent mention with his black deeds and nickname Buffalo Bill (not after serial killer Gary Heidnik) but because his buffalos would run off at night and the UP police was tasked to chase and round them up periodically. Aside from him, gangster Nihad too is a candidate of Samajwadi Party (SP) contesting UP elections. There is also news about the main culprit in Delhi Riots contesting elections in Punjab from another party.

Gunda Raj coming is the cry but does the public know it is officially permitted and has been in vogue ever since? Parliament could have amended Article 102 (e) of the Constitution as recommended by the CJI barring contesting elections from jail plus those having criminal charges against them. The BJP could have passed an Ordinance for this when it pushed through many Ordinances without discussions even. But this was not done because Hamam Mein Sab Nangey Hain and all political parties enjoy it, which is apparent from succeeding paragraphs.   

The Financial Express published a report on August 23, 2021, quoting theAssociation for Democratic Reforms (ADR), to say that 363 MPs and MLAs have declared criminal cases against them – charges framed by the Courts for offences falling under Section 8 (1), (2) and (3) of the Representation of People Act, 1951. As per the ADR, these 363 include 296 MLAs and 67 MPs. BJP topped the list with 83, Congress ranked second with 47 and AITC third with 25. Also in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, 67 MPs participated with declared criminal charges against them, followed by Bihar assembly elections 2020 where 54 MLAs having declared criminal charges contested. There may be additions beyond this report, for example, the current Minister of State (Home) reportedly has 17 criminal cases against him.

The vital question is do the political parties have any idea what  insecurity politicians with criminal charges against them create for the population of India and more importantly in terms of national security, especially if they are in government. Should lack of appropriate law be used to let goons and those with criminal charges against them contest upcoming elections? Azam Khan and Nihad are in news but going by the above ADR report, how many candidates with criminal records are being given tickets for upcoming elections by political parties including the BJP? When will this stop

Courts also have their own priorities. For example, news reports of January 25 state that 15 years after Richard Gere repeatedly hugged and kissed Shilpa Shetty during an AIDS-awareness event in 2007, Shilpa Shetty finally has been granted relief by the Mumbai Court and has been labelled a “victim” of obscenity. The complaint against Shetty was filed at a Rajasthan court, which was later transferred to Mumbai court on Supreme Court’s order. Besides, didn’t the Supreme Court hold an out of turn session when the Mumbai High Court filed charges against Arnab Goswami?

The perpetual argument defending tainted politicians is that they have not been ‘convicted’. But would they ever be tried and how many years that trial will take to conclude in a judgment, if at all? Ever heard of a lawmaker in the ruling party, whichever the government, being convicted? Whatever happened to 12 Special Courts set up in 2018 to clear all cases of tainted politicians in one year? As it is, some 73,000 cases are pending before the Supreme Court and about 44 million in all the courts of India, some 30 years old, as per media reports of December 5, 2021.

The nukkad gup-shup is where are we heading? But the local goon roars, “With the total population is corrupt with goons galore, do you think saints can control this country? Less the saints, better the governance.” Who can answer that? What a globally unparalleled democracy we have where criminals contest elections from jail though getting bail for electioneering depends on which party the criminal belongs to. Besides, all politicians can contest elections from two different constituencies but the voter can cast only one vote?  

The opposition is hollering that the Prime Minister attended only the opening day of the Winter Session of Parliament to avoid debate over the territory lost to China in Eastern Ladakh during 2020. But with Parliament in session he visited UP practically every day to announce projects worth thousands of crores of rupees, laying foundation stones, inaugurating infrastructure projects and schemes to benefit segments of the population. Moreover, having completed his own election rallies, the EC was asked to ban rallies till January 31, restrictions thereafter or virtual rallies for which only the BJP is equipped. The counter view is that those raising these issues are against development and BJP did not call Omicron.   

The vital question is do the political parties have any idea what  insecurity politicians with criminal charges against them create for the population of India and more importantly in terms of national security, especially if they are in government.

Union Minister Amit Shah says BJP will win more than 300 seats in the upcoming UP assembly elections. Shah had also told media during a road-show in Midnapore, West Bengal on March 23 last year that the BJP will win West Bengal with over 200 seats: “Pakka 200 paar,” he said. Notwithstanding this, the incumbency factor and that no UP chief minister has won a successive term, indications are that BJP will win UP. Opinion polls too point to this. But the inside news is that there are apprehensions within the party.  

More in Part II, which is the concluding part.

The author is a veteran of the Indian Army. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of https://strategicaffairsindia.in.

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