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Criminalization of Politics in India: Challenge to Democracy

Democracy entails adhering to the rule of law, supporting the Constitution’s tenets, and adhering to the canons of moral and legal appropriateness. However, in the years following independence, the processes of social, political, and economic transformation, as well as crime, have become inextricably linked, much like the umbilical cord connects mother and new-born.

It’s a pity that politics in the world’s largest democracy has become synonymous with the gun cult. Despite their criminal records and illegal participation, these individuals are elected to the Parliament and State legislatures and are accountable for the country’s governance and management. Politics criminalization has become a headache for India’s democracy, and it is now a grim reality. It’s even more brutal than terrorism. Our forefathers, who fought for our freedom and put their lives on the line in the process 75 years ago, had a dream, which we see being crushed today. The relationship between criminals and politicians has resulted in the corrupt becoming our leaders and heroes, resulting in the criminality of political parties. In his classic book, ‘When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics,’ Milan Vaishnav explains how goondas and mafias have been a component of electoral politics in India from the country’s inception.

Criminalisation in India

The criminalization of politics is widespread and occurs in all states, regardless of literacy, development, GDP, or urbanisation levels. People with criminal records are becoming politicians and elected officials. Political parties, voters, and the country’s entire law and order mechanism are all equally to blame for the current state of affairs. The legislative, administration, and judiciary, which were once supported to keep a careful eye on each other, are being undermined, and their roots are corrupting. On paper, India gained independence, but the people still had a colonial hangover. Our electoral system desperately needs to be improved in a systematic and deliberate manner. Almost all recent committees on politics and electoral reform have unanimously noticed the criminalization of our political system. There are numerous forms of political criminalization, but the one that is most concerning is the large number of elected officials who are facing criminal accusations. Intimidation of voters, booth capturing, the growth of non-serious candidates, altered electoral records, and other polling anomalies are all examples of the criminalization of politics.

In an ideal world, “Criminalization” would come before “Legislative issues,” but in this case, “Governmental issues” should come first because the scope of “Governmental issues” is crucial in determining the bounds of “Criminalization.” According to Merriam-Webster, “legislative issues” is defined as “the workmanship or science concerned with controlling or altering administrative strategies.” As a result, expanding the scope of political criminality to embrace all aspects of administration is a good idea. For example, when a person facing a criminal charge is allowed permission to run for office, this is a form of criminalization. Criminalization of Politics refers to the participation of applicants in decisions involving criminal allegations such as assault, murder, and coercion in races. Despite athletes with criminal histories to challenge in the races, India’s constitution does not have a specific provision. This training not only damages the country’s reputation and administration, but it also increases crime rates and disrupts the country’s rule of law. Currently, it is necessary to understand who hoodlums are in the eyes of the law before determining if crooks were allowed to appeal rulings. According to the law, a person who has been proven accountable for a certain conduct or who has been indicted for the same is considered a criminal.  Section 8 of the Representative of People Act states that a person who has been incarcerated for more than two years cannot contest a political decision until six years after his or her release. “Regardless, due of the legal deferral, this agreement proved ineffective in practise. But there was no predetermined legislation prohibiting anyone confronted with a preliminary in court from contesting the decisions. In these circumstances, the increase in the number of members of parliament dealing with criminal indictments will have an influence on Indian citizens’ trust in the vote-based system and its components. This might have disastrous consequences for people’s vote-based souls and faith in the Constitution. In a 2014 assessment by the Law Commission, it was said that because the Representative of People’s Act does not prohibit individuals with criminal backgrounds from contesting decisions, it is unfit for managing the growing rate of criminalization of legislative issues in India. Political power is the ability to govern a country through a legitimate electoral process. The entrance of criminals into the area of politics is known as criminalisation of politics. As a result, elected officials abuse their positions of political authority.

According to the law, even those who are facing criminal charges can vote in elections because Indian law does not prohibit those who are facing serious criminal charges from voting. What’s more shocking and disgraceful is that these people approach the Parliament and Assemblies, the country’s highest governing body, even after committing serious criminal offences. Regrettably, the people we elect to make the laws are themselves criminals in the eyes of the law. “Just as it’s difficult not to taste honey or poison at the tip of the tongue,” Kautilya, a brilliant political and economic philosopher, said in his seminal book ‘Arthashastra,’ “it’s equally hard for a minister or a government servant not to eat up at least a bit of government revenue.” Political power is the most effective tool of achieving social and economic change in every country. Politics, on the other hand, becomes the most convenient means of achieving economic goals in a corrupted system. Money and brute power are two major factors that contribute to the criminalization of politics.

During the election process, these two powers are displayed. With money power, there are two ethical and legal considerations to consider. The ethical component is that candidates contesting elections try to persuade votes using money power rather than merit. Elections should be based on merit and not on material goods. The legal component of exceeding the expenditure limit is that the candidate is not following the Election Commission’s established limit. Furthermore, the money spent is ill-gotten wealth, or black money, which the candidate is squandering. ‘Muscle power’ is the second component of political criminalization. Since the 1970s, the free employment of musclemen has been used to gather votes and influence the attitudes and actions of the voters. This has been depicted with a strong sense of reality in Indian popular culture. The use of money and muscular strength to win elections has been featured in films such as ‘Rakhta Charitra’ and ‘Gangs of Wasseypur.’ However, during the 1990s, these musclemen have begun to enter the political arena, rather than simply providing muscle strength to candidates. This turning point in Indian politics tainted the political landscape even further. A famous political commentator and researcher, Rajni Kothari, correctly summarised Indian politics as “a link between Neta-Dada-Babu-Lala” (Politician-Muscleman-Bureaucrat-Businessman). This unsavoury and hazardous relationship between the bureaucracy and political leaders paved the way for political criminality. The criminalization of politics is due to both caste and religion. Promotion in the bureaucracy follows a set of procedures and rules.

There are a number of factors that contribute to the criminalization of politics. The desire for power is the most compelling incentive for people to enter politics. People who are in charge of the government have access to all of the state’s resources. All of this is usually used to advance their own agendas, to line their own pockets, and to grind their own axe. Legislators and political executives, as political masters, wield a great deal of authority over policy. A lot of scams involving a significant number of politicians were spotted. India is placed 86th on the Corruption Perception Index 2020. This demonstrates the political-bureaucratic link. The term “dedicated bureaucracy” has evolved into “Sycophant bureaucrats,” who dance to the songs of their political masters. ‘Institutional corruption’ has become ‘institutionalisation of corruption’ as a result of this process. Vote-bank politics is the second cause for India’s criminalization of politics. Many ascriptive factors, such as caste, religion, and so on, play a role in this process. Political parties and individuals spend vast sums of money on vote buying and other illicit activities, and these persons are referred to as “goons.” A politician’s ties to his or her constituency create an environment conducive to political crime in order to persuade supporters to vote for a specific candidate.

Electoral Reforms

However, some recent election reforms have been a step forward. The Indian constitution contains several sections that deal with the disqualification of MPs. Article 102 of the Constitution deals with the disqualification of Members of Parliament, and it states that candidates will be disqualified under the law, regardless of the law passed by Parliament Disqualification of members of the state legislature is dealt with in Article 191. These articles contradict the “Representation of People’s Act” of 1951, which talks about disqualification of members. For example, the legislature is “very clear” on the reasons for disqualification in the Representation of People’s Act of 1951.

These grounds include conviction for certain offences under section 8, section 8A corrupt practises, section 9 dismissal for corruption or disloyalty, section 9A when a contract exists between the person and the government, section 10 disqualification for office in a government company, and section 10A failure to file an election expense account. So, the Representation of the People’s Statute is a very important act that was adopted by Parliament to prevent legitimate elections from being held. It also discusses disqualification for members contesting elections for MPs, MLAs, and state legislatures. The Election Commission of India is empowered by Article 324 of the Indian Constitution to direct and regulate free and fair elections in India. The Election Commission has been given the power of Superintendence. Article 325 of the Constitution guarantees universal suffrage and states that no one is disqualified to be included in, or claim to be included in, a special electoral roll because of their religion, race, caste, or sex. In India, the 1951 Representation of Peoples Act establishes a legal framework for elections. Seat distribution in the House of People, as well as Legislative Assemblies and Legislative Councils of States, is one of the act’s primary features. The Act also defines how electoral rolls are created and seats are filled. Disqualification provisions are included in ROPA. The Vohra Committee on “Criminalization of Politics” was formed with the purpose of determining the degree of the political-criminal connection and suggesting ways to effectively manage the criminalization of legislative issues. Official offices in the report revealed a few observable facts about the criminal organisation that had been running an equal government for all intents and purposes. The Vohra Committee’s Report also looked at how gangs of thugs benefited from parliamentarians’ assistance and the assurance they received from government officials. The analysis revealed how political leaders have become into pack pioneers. Known criminals have been elected to Parliament, State Assemblies, and local government bodies. In Shri Dinesh Trivedi, M.P. and Ors v. Union of India and Ors [(1997) 4 SCC 306], the Supreme Court recommended the establishment of a high-level board to ensure an in-depth examination of the N Vohra Committee’s findings and the arraignment of those involved, saying: “to take urgent supply of all available data about the activities and connections, all things considered, (Revenue, Intelligence, and so on) to assemble the necessary data.” Here, it has been discussed how cash power is essentially being utilised to promote the muscle-power network that government officials employ during contests. The Vohra Committee concluded by stating that there is a critical need to establish knowledge offices to deal with the issue of criminalization of legislative concerns in order to check something similar. The Supreme Court compelled the revelation of information regarding to a candidate’s criminal histories, educational qualifications, and personal assets in Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) v. Union of India (AIR 2001 Delhi 126) in 2002. In Lily Thomas v. Union of India [2000 (2) ALD Cri 686], the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act, which gave guilty legislators a three-month window to appeal to a higher court and gain a stay on their conviction and sentence. The Supreme Court of India recognised negative voting as a constitutional right of a voter in People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India [(2004) 2 SCC 476], and ordered the government to include the ‘NOTA’ option on electronic voting machines. In Public Interest Foundation and Ors. v Union of India [2019 (3) SCC 224], the Supreme Court directed those trials of serving MPs and MLAs be completed within a year of accusations being filed against them, based on recommendations made by the Law Commission in its 244th report. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Lok Prahari v. Union of India (Lok Prahari v. Union of India, 2018) lays the door for future constitutional interventions in India’s political party funding framework, including the electoral bond scheme.


Hence, abuse of state authority and criminalization of politics can only be lessened and abolished if more people participate in the running of the state. Decentralization of power is required, as well as transparency of laws and regulations. The representatives should be sedentary and possess the characteristics of a social servant. They must consider and work for the general welfare of the people in the national interest. While the remedies to reducing criminalization in politics will be discussed in detail in the following section, it is critical to first present the notion of Electoral Reforms and how they can help India’s dire political situation. Electoral reforms, such as a fixed number of finances and greater financial transparency by electoral candidates, which have been implemented to some extent (but are still rife with loopholes), reduction of Poll Booth Manipulation, and so on, are what is required in the crux of the matter, rather than forming various committees to sit on issues for a long time. “Politics without principle,” as Gandhiji put it, is one of the seven sins.


By Arryan Mohanty