Know your leaders: 24% of newly-elected Karnataka MLAs face serious criminal charges


By Maj. Gen. Anil Verma (Retd)

The results are in for Karnataka but the jury is out as to who will provide a stable government due to the hung verdict of the electorate. The next two weeks will be full of political action and drama with the Governor, Opposition, BJP and the Supreme Court playing pivotal roles. While we wait for the dust to settle around the Vidhana Soudha, let’s have a look at the background of the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) the Karnataka electorate has selected.

Karnataka Election Watch and the Association for Democratic Reforms have analysed the self-sworn affidavits of 221 out of 222 newly elected MLAs in the elections. The report states that the average assets per MLA in Karnataka have gone up three times over a decade. Almost all MLAs elected have assets more than a crore with 99% of Congress MLAs, 98% of BJP MLAs and 95% of JD(S) MLAs.

Financial background of your elected leaders

As per the ADR analysis, in the newly elected assembly, the average assets for each MLA is around Rs. 34.59 crore. In 2013, the average assets of 218 MLAs analysed were Rs. 23.54 crore, while in 2008 it was Rs. 10.05 crore. The average assets of re-elected MLAs have grown by a whopping 90%. The percentage of MLAs who reported assets of more than a crore have increased from 93% in 2013 to 97% this year.

When analysing the party-wise breakdown, Congress tops the charts with 11 (14%) out of the elected 78 MLAs with declared assets of more than Rs. 100 crore. While JD (S) has 3 (8%) out of their elected 37 MLAs and BJP has only one out of 103 MLAs whose assets are valued at more than Rs 100 crore. While 50% of the MLAs have assets over Rs. 10 crore, 22% have between Rs 5-10 crore, while 26% are between Rs 1-5 crore. This is an indication of money playing a powerful role and wreaking havoc in electoral system and needless to say, this is not the kind of democracy we want.

Criminal background of your elected leaders

The number of elected MLAs with pending criminal cases against them has increased. Out of the 221 MLAs analysed, 77 (35%) MLAs have declared criminal cases against themselves. In 2013, out of 218 MLAs analysed 74 (34%) had declared criminal cases against themselves. This year, 54 (24%) MLAs have declared serious criminal cases including cases related to attempt to murder, kidnapping amongst others. In 2013, 39 (17%) MLAs had declared serious criminal cases against themselves while four MLAs declared cases related to attempt to murder (IPC Section 307).

Looking at the party-wise breakdown, 42 (41%) out of 103 MLAs from BJP, 23 (30%) out of 78 MLAs from Congress and 11 (30%) out of 37 MLAs from JD(S) MLAs have declared criminal cases against themselves in their affidavits. 29 (28%) out of 103 MLAs from BJP, 17 (22%) out of 78 MLAs from INC and 8 (22%) out of 37 MLAs from JD(S) MLAs have declared serious criminal cases against themselves in their affidavits.

Election expenditure

As per media reports, it is estimated that Rs. 10,000 crore was spent by political parties and candidates towards election expenditure during the Karnataka 2018 elections. Compared to the figure of Rs 30,000 crores spent on the entire General Election in 2014, it is a very steep increase and a cause of concern. ADR and ECI have been recommending a cap on the political party expenditure akin to the expense limit of Rs. 40 lakhs and Rs. 70 lakhs for candidates contesting State Assembly and Parliament elections, respectively. However, none of the political parties and ruling governments have expressed interest in imposing a ceiling on party expenditure for election campaigns.

What did the electorate want?

Analysing the Karnataka election campaign and the results bring out the fact that despite the huge amount of money spent by the political parties, the electorate has signalled that it is unhappy with the INC and JD(S) and not entirely convinced that BJP deserves to form the government. The election campaign hit a new low with rhetoric and name-calling and seeking votes on caste/religion and other emotive issues.

The political parties missed the narrative of substantive issues facing the common man. During March 2018, ADR and Daksh along with Karnataka Election Watch conducted a survey in all 225 constituencies of Karnataka interviewing 13244 respondents. The aim of the survey was to ascertain the priorities of the voters and analyse their expectations from the newly elected government.

The results showed that Karnataka rural voters’ top five priorities included water supply and quality, better schools, roads, electricity supply and more hospitals. On the other hand the urban voter in Karnataka signalled their top five priorities were water supply and quality, better electricity supply, schools, roads and environmental protection.

The unfolding of the election campaign has made it clear that the political parties vying to gain governance did not address the needs of the common man. Their entire focus and the electoral arithmetic prior to/after the elections was to seek power – by means fair or foul. Parties are not interested in making serious efforts to generate employment, reduce agrarian distress, resolve the water issue, reduce inequalities and provide good governance to help raise the standard of living

On an annual Global Democracy Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), India remains classified among the “flawed democracies”. It has been continually slipping in the ranking from 27th place in 2014 to 32nd place in 2016 and to 42nd place in 2017.

What should be done?

The need of the hour is to revaluate the First Past The Post (FPTP) system because winners emerging under this system are not truly representative of the electorate’s choice. There are some MPs/MLAs who have won with as little as 20% vote share and there are political parties whose vote share is high but is not converted into equivalent number of seats.

Additionally, there needs to be a serious effort made towards bringing in political reforms to political parties and the ruling government. Although a parliamentary standing committee on Electoral reforms had been formed under the chairmanship of Anand Sharma, the committee has failed to do any substantial work. Institutions such as the Comptroller and Auditor General of India and the Election Commission of India need to be empowered so they can perform the tasks they were set up to do.

Lastly and most importantly, it is the people of India who have the capability to force the political parties to reform, by not voting them to power in case of their failure to perform. It is time “we the people” realise that we need to put an end to this charade, and clean up the system so that people with strong character and values who want to make change in the country enter the political field.

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