In India, by default it is assumed that a politician is a criminal. Nearly 50% of the Member of Parliament(MPs) in India have criminal cases pending against them. Out of 539 winners analysed in Lok Sabha elections held in 2019, 233 MPs had declared criminal cases against themselves.

Around 159 (29 per cent) winners this time have declared serious criminal cases including cases related to rape, murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, crimes against women, etc. The figures are more or less the same even at the State level.

Today we look at the key takeaways from Milan Vaishnav‘s book – When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics. This book is based on the author’s extensive research on the subject.

The supply side: Why Criminals find it attractive to join politics

Initially, criminals were working for the politicians in order –

1. To ensure protection from the Government and their rivals,

2. To make money by tapping into government contracts, funds and patronage.

Later on, criminals realized instead of working for politicians they themselves can join politics and gain more power and protection.

Mohammad Shahabuddin: A file picture from the ’90s shows the politician with his henchmen

Why political parties field them:

Fighting elections is an expensive affair anywhere in the world and particularly so in India. Political parties have become desperate for resources and want a candidate who can spend large sums and also contribute to the party coffers. Moreover, criminal elements bring with them the ability to fight opponents on the streets if the need be.

The Demand side: Why People vote for criminals:

Milan Vaishnav’s extensive research found that people don’t vote for criminals in spite of but because they are criminals.

In India, the rule of law is weak. Moreover, the society is divided on caste and religious lines.

Criminals politicians are seen as people who can get work done and as protectors. Criminal politicians run kangaroo courts delivering justice.

Most of the time, these politicians are seen as protectors of a particular community or a caste. In India’s fragmented polity with first past the post system one can win elections by rallying one’s core supporters.

Criminal politicians also bring with them money power to bribe voters during elections.

Unless one addresses the structural issues, crime is here to stay in Indian politics. Change is difficult as the one responsible to strengthen the rule of law benefits from it being weak.

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