India top courts tells parties to justify rise in 'criminal candidates'

A general view of the Indian Parliament building before the beginning of the first session of the Indian parliament in New Delhi on June 17, 2019 Image copyright Getty Images

India's Supreme Court has made it mandatory for political parties to publish the names of any candidates with criminal records, along with a justification for why they were chosen.

The top court said the "alarming rise" of "criminal candidates" had to be addressed urgently.

Parties have 48 hours to disclose details of these candidates on their websites, and on social media.

In 2019, 43% of newly-elected MPs had criminal records, up from 34% in 2014.

This is according to data compiled by a watchdog, the Association for Democratic Reforms, (ADR).

And the number has been rising - 24% of newly-elected MPs in 2004, and 30% in 2009, had criminal records.

Some of the charges are of a minor nature or politically motivated. But there are many who face more serious charges such as theft, assaulting public officials, murder and even rape.

The court asked why parties could not field a "clean" candidate, and added that "winnability" was not an adequate justification for allowing a tainted politician to run for election.

Parties have been told to forward this information to the Election Commission, and if they fail to do so, they would be held in contempt of court.

Why do India's political parties field tainted candidates?

Soutik Biswas, BBC News, Delhi

"A key factor motivating parties to select candidates with serious criminal records comes down to cold, hard cash," says political scientist Milan Vaishnav.

The rising cost of elections and a shadowy election financing system where parties and candidates under-report collections and expenses means that parties prefer "self-financing candidates who do not represent a drain on the finite party coffers but instead contribute 'rents' to the party". Many of these candidates have criminal records.

There are three million political positions in India's three-tier democracy; each election requires considerable resources.

Many parties are like personal fiefs run by dominant personalities and dynasts, and lacking inner-party democracy - conditions, which help "opportunistic candidates with deep pockets".

"There is space here for a criminal candidate to present himself as a Robin Hood-like figure," he added.

Read the full analysis here.

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