Know your candidate: 15% Karnataka poll hopefuls face criminal charges

By Anil Verma

With only a few days remaining before the Karnataka state polls scheduled for May 12, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) analysed the affidavits of about 96% of the candidates. The study revealed some shocking facts about gender disparity, as well as the candidates’ education, financial and criminal backgrounds.

Of the 2655 candidates contesting the poll, ADR analysed the affidavits of 2560 candidates; 15% of these candidates have criminal cases registered against them, and 10% face serious criminal charges. About 35% of the candidates have average assets worth Rs. 7.54 crores, while only 8% of all candidates are women.

In the 2013 Karnataka elections, ADR analysed a sample of 2788 candidates and found that 12% candidates had criminal cases, with 7% facing serious criminal cases, while 31% candidates had assets worth more than Rs 1 crore and only 6% candidates were women. After the election, once the winners were declared, ADR observed that 33% of the winners had criminal cases against them with 17% facing serious charges. Additionally, out of the winners, 94% of them reported assets of more than a crore and only 3% of the winners were women.

Criminal background of candidates

The three main political parties contesting in the Karnataka elections are Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janta Dal (JDs). Upon further investigation, the ADR found that 37% candidates from BJP have declared criminal cases (26% serious cases) while 27% of INC candidates have criminal cases against them (15% serious cases) and JD(S) fielded 21% candidates with criminal cases (12% serious cases).

Financial background of candidates

BJP has 93% candidates with registered assets of over a crore, while INC has 94% and JD(S) has 77%. In addition to this, ADR also found that recontesting MLA’s reported an increase in assets on average of about Rs.17 crore (64%) from 2013 to 2018.

What does this mean?

It can be observed that while the number of candidates with serious criminal cases has increased by 3%, the number of women candidates has increased by 2% and candidates with assets more than Rs 1 crore have also increased by 4%. Furthermore, it has been observed that over the last decade, political parties are giving tickets to 30-33% candidates with criminal cases and 70-90% candidates who have assets more than Rs 1 crore, making it clear that a candidate’s ability to win is judged solely by their money and muscle power. However, such candidates after winning elections, ignore governance and the voters and are busy recouping their investment many times over.

The election campaign has been reduced to name calling, provocative speeches, levelling allegations on top leaders of opposing parties and dividing the Karnataka voters on lines of religion, region, caste. About Rs 72 crore cash and Rs 32 crore worth gold has been seized by Election Commission of India to date, three times the size of earlier seizures. Bribing of voters and inciting people on religious lines continues despite a Supreme Court directive banning both.

Additionally, parties declare their manifestos a few days before the polling date, not giving enough time to the electorate to analyse or reasonably debate them. In any case, manifestos are forgotten soon after their release, as the performance of the elected government is never measured on the promises outlined in the manifesto.

What is the prognosis?

The solution to these problems requires a complete overhaul of the Indian electoral system. The first step in doing so will be to cap the expenditure of political parties. Secondly, there needs to be an increase in the accountability and transparency in the functioning of political parties. Political parties have strongly opposed coming under the Right to Information (RTI) Act and have been silent on the introduction of the Electoral Bond Scheme, which sounds the death knell for the little transparency that existed in political funding.

The Electoral Commision of India should strictly enforce the Moral Code of Conduct, to prevent hate speeches. Currently, 47% of elected legislators in the country from the BJP have cases pertaining to hate speech against them. Additionally, political parties must stop granting tickets to candidates with serious criminal cases against them. The Congress and the BJP fielded 15% and 26% candidates respectively with cases related to heinous crimes in Karnataka.

Lastly, the voters must understand that as long as they continue to cast their votes on caste, religion, community and regional lines, politicians will continue to take advantage of them. Real development will remain a dream and good governance will not be delivered by elected legislators.

Read the entire analysis of criminal background, financial, education, gender and other details of candidates for the Karnataka Assembly Elections 2018 here.

Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Anil Verma is the head of the Association for Democratic Reforms.