BBC News – Why do Indians vote for ‘criminal’ politicians?

Soutik Biswas – India correspondent

New Delhi – India, 16 January 2017. Why do India’s political parties field candidates with criminal charges? Why do the voters favour them despite their tainted past?

Political scientist Milan Vaishnav has been studying links between crime and democracy in India for many years now. His upcoming book When Crime Pays offers some intriguing insights into what is a disturbing feature of India’s electoral democracy.

The good news is that the general election is a thriving, gargantuan exercise: 554 million voters queued up at more than 900,000 stations to cast their ballots in the last edition in 2014. The fortunes of 8,250 candidates representing 464 political parties were at stake.

The bad news is that a third (34%) of 543 MPs who were elected faced criminal charges, up from 30% in 2009 and 24% in 2004.

Fiercely competitive

Some of the charges were of minor nature or politically motivated. But more than 20% of the new MPs faced serious charges such as attempted murder, assaulting public officials, and theft.

Now, India’s general elections are not exactly a cakewalk.

Over time, they have become fiercely competitive: 464 parties were in the fray in 2014, up from 55 in the first election in 1952.

The average margin of victory was 9.7% in 2009, the thinnest since the first election. At 15%, the average margin of victory was fatter in the landslide 2014 polls, but even this was vastly lower than, say, the average margin of victory in the 2012 US Congressional elections (32%) and the 2010 general election in Britain (18%).

Almost all parties in India, led by the ruling BJP and the main opposition Congress, field tainted candidates. Why do they do so? For one, says Dr Vaishnav, “a key factor motivating parties to select candidates with serious criminal records comes down to cold, hard cash”.

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”.

Good proxy

“Wealthy, self financing candidates are not only attractive to parties but they are also likely to be more electorally competitive. Contesting elections is an expensive proposition in most parts of the world, a candidate’s wealth is a good proxy for his or her electoral vitality,” says Dr Vaishnav, who is senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Political parties also nominate candidates with criminal backgrounds to stand for election because, simply put, they win.

During his research, Dr Vaishnav studied all candidates who stood in the last three general elections. He separated them into candidates with clean records and candidates with criminal records, and found that the latter had an 18% chance of winning their next election whereas the “clean” candidates had only a 6% chance.

He did a similar calculation for candidates contesting state elections between 2003 and 2009, and found a “large winning advantage for candidates who have cases pending against them”.

Politics also offers a lucrative career, a 2013 study showed that the average wealth of sitting legislators increased 222% during just one term in office. The officially declared average wealth of re-contesting candidates, including losers and winners, was $264,000 (£216,110) in 2004 and $618,000 in 2013, an increase of 134%.

‘Biggest criminal

Now why do Indians vote for criminal candidates? Is it because many of the voters are illiterate, ignorant, or simply, ill-informed?

Dr Vaishnav doesn’t believe so.

Candidates with criminal records don’t mask their reputation. Earlier this month, a candidate belonging to the ruling party in northern Uttar Pradesh state reportedly boasted to a party worker that he was the “biggest criminal”. Increasing information through media and rising awareness hasn’t led to a shrinking of tainted candidates.

Dr Vaishnav believes reasonably well-informed voters support criminal candidates in constituencies where social divisions driven by caste and/or religion are sharp and the government is failing to carry out its functions, delivering services, dispensing justice, or providing security, in an impartial manner.

“There is space here for a criminal candidate to present himself as a Robin Hood-like figure,” says Dr Vaishnav.

Clearly, crime and politics will remain inextricably intertwined as long as India doesn’t make its election financing system transparent, parties become more democratic and the state begins to deliver ample services and justice.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has suggested state funding of polls to help clean up campaign financing. Earlier this month, he said people had the right to know where the BJP got its funds from. Some 14% of the candidates his BJP party fielded in the last elections had faced serious charges. (More than 10% of the candidates recruited by the Congress faced charges). But no party is walking the talk yet.

The Tribune – Will meet HM to push for SGPC polls: Rebel Akalis

Tribune News Service

Amritsar – Panjab – India, 20 February 2020. A day prior to holding a rally at Tarn Taran, Rajya Sabha MP Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa along with SAD (Taksali) secretary general Sewa Singh Sekhwan and Sikh Federation leader Manjit Singh Bhoma on Thursday visited Bhupinder Singh Khalsa at his residence here.

Bhupinder had recently resigned from the post of SAD (NRI wing) general secretary based at the US while revolting against the top Akali leadership.

The leaders emphasised that in the present scenario, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee president as well as Takht Jathedars were left as ‘rubber stamps’ whereas the Badals-led Akali leadership had been misutilising them for political gains.

“We want to free the SGPC from the Badals. Before occupying any political platform, our first move will be to prepare the candidates for the SGPC polls,” Dhindsa said.

He said a delegation would soon meet the Union Home Minister, demanding to hold the SGPC polls that were long overdue. He claimed that a set of people had shown solidarity with their vision of the revival of sanctity of Akal Takht and the SGPC.

Deurne: Gurdwara and Bremweide

Deurne Gurdwara
09 January 2020

Palki Sahib

Sach Khand

Guru Har Rai Sahib Gurdwara
Bisschoppenhoflaan 638B
2100 Deurne – Antwerpen

09 January 2020

From Bisschoppenhoflaan into Bremweide Park

The park has both woodland and meadows

The path behind the buildings along Bisschoppenhoflaan

The Gurdwara seen from the park

More Belgian pictures to be published
Harjinder Singh
Man in Blue

FirstPost – JP Nadda meets SAD chief Parkash Singh Badal amid strained ties over CAA, BJP president makes pitch to strengthen Punjab NDA alliance

Chandigarh/Amritsar/New Delhi, 20 February 2020. BJP president JP Nadda on Thursday called on Akali Dal patriarch Parkash Singh Badal at his home in Punjab’s Badal village and deliberated on strengthening the NDA in the state, sources in the parties said.

The visit to Badal’s native village came days after the former Punjab chief minister said minorities “should be taken along” to run a government.

The closed-door meeting, which lasted about an hour, assumes significance following the brief strain between the BJP and its oldest ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) that had announced it would not contest the Delhi Assembly election following differences with the saffron party on the Citizenship Amendment Act.

It later backed BJP candidates in the Assembly elections.

Coming out of the meeting, Nadda told reporters he had gone to the village to meet the veteran leader to extend a personal invitation for his son’s wedding.

“We have good relations with the Badals,” Nadda said.

The BJP president said on Twitter that he had paid a courtesy visit to “Parkash Singh Badal Sahab”, one of India’s most “respected statesmen”. “Meeting with Badal Sahib always inspires us,” he said. Nadda was accompanied by BJP vice president Prabhat Jha, also the party’s in-charge for Punjab.

Nadda got a grand welcome with flowers and the traditional bhangra when he reached Badal village. Addressing a rally in Amritsar on 13 February, Badal said all religions should be respected.

The SAD wanted Muslims to be included in the CAA, a legislation which seeks to give citizenship to members of persecuted minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan but leaves out the community.

This was Nadda’s first visit to Punjab after becoming BJP president and also his first meeting with Badal senior. From Badal village, Nadda went to Amritsar and paid obeisance at the Golden Temple in the evening.

Asked about the relations between the BJP and the SAD, he said, “BJP and SAD have old, important and strong alliance, we remained together in good and odd circumstances. Further strengthening and making stronger the NDA, we both are committed for this cause.”

“A few days ago, I had a meeting with SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal. The alliance is very much strong and will remain intact in future too,” he said.

Later, he had a closed-door meeting with Punjab BJP leaders at a hotel. – ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ slogan at anti-CAA rally was ill-conceived, but it is not sedition

The decision to yell a contentious slogan at a public rally may be worth criticising, but it is not grounds for a sedition charge.

Sruthisagar Yamunan

Bengaluru – Karnataka – India, 21 February 2020. Eighteen-year-old Amulya Leona was charged with sedition on Thursday after she shouted “Pakistan Zindabad” at an anti-Citizenship Amendment Act rally organised by the All India Majlis e Ittehad ul Muslimeen in Bengaluru.

A video of the event at which Leona is seen shouting the slogan has gone viral. In the clip, AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi can be seen looking alarmed the moment he hears the slogan and promptly asks the woman to stop the chants. Owaisi later criticised her for misusing the party forum.

Despite this, Owaisi has come under fire from the Hindutva critics on social media, as they questioned his patriotism yet again. In addition, Leona’s father in Chikkamagaluru in Karnataka was made to disown his daughter’s comments on camera and was heckled by a group men to chant “Bharat Mata ki Jai”.

A Facebook post by Leona on February 16 that came to attention after the incident seems to show that the teenager did not intend to single out Pakistan for praise so much as to make the point that humanity should be placed above the territorial idea of a nation state.

A translation of the original Kannada message seemed to indicate what Leona was about to say before she was asked to stop her speech at the meeting.

“Hindustan zindabad, Pakistan zindabad, Bangladesh zindabad, Sri Lanka zindabad, Nepal zindabad, China zindabad, Afghanistan zindabad, Bhutan zindabad,” Leona had written. “Whichever country it may be, zindabad to all countries.”

She added, “Children are taught that country means territory. But, we, the children, want to tell you, a country is its people. Every person is entitled to basic amenities. All the people should have citizenship rights. The governments of all countries should look after its people in a good manner. Zindabad to everyone who works in the service of people.”

Despite the criticism of Leona’s action, it is clear is that the police’s decision to invoke the sedition law is disproportionate.

Labelling Muslims

Owaisi’s response to the slogan was clearly the right thing to do, given the atmosphere that has been created across India ever since protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act broke out in December. The new law introduces a religious criterion for awarding citizenship, providing illegal immigrants from three countries a fast track to Indian citizenship, except if they are Muslim.

Hindutva groups, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its ministers, have repeatedly attempted to portray Muslims agitating against the law as “anti-nationals”.

In such a situation, for someone to chant slogans in support of Pakistan at a meeting organised by a Muslim party is irresponsible and ill-conceived. Such an action plays into the hands of Hindutva groups, which are now trying to justify their bigoted opinion that all Indian Muslims harbour sympathies for Pakistan.

There is, of course, little evidence for this at the protests across India, which foreground in speeches and artwork the Preamble of the Constitution that guarantees equality, justice and fraternity.

As many such as Left activist Kavita Krishnan have pointed out, Leona’s intention was never to celebrate Pakistan. It seems the legitimate anxiety that the chant created at the event led to the unfortunate consequence of her being stopped from completing her statement. As a result, she is heard shouting “Pakistan Zindabad” three times before the microphone was taken away from her.

While it could be argued that she was simply trying to get the attention of the crowd, the consequences that the chant would have created for the protests is dire. Owaisi’s decision to stop her cannot be faulted.

What can be faulted is the manner in which the state has responded to events. The police immediately filed a case of sedition against Leona and the magistrate has sent her to judicial custody for 14 days.

Khalistan, Pakistan and sedition

Can chanting “Pakistan zindabad” without an intention to bring about disaffection against the government be deemed seditious? Clearly not. In fact, the Supreme Court has condoned similar statements made in even more drastic circumstances and has criticised police officials who had failed to apply their mind in moving prosecutions for sedition.

In 1995, the case of two Punjab state officials booked for sedition came up in appeal before the Supreme Court. Balwant Singh and Bhupinder Singh were tried for sedition after they shouted “Khalistan Zindabad” and “Hindustan Murdabad” in Chandigarh hours after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh guards on 31 October 1984.

The Khalistani movement was a separatist movement that Indira Gandhi put down with force. Its aim was to create a separate nation for Sikhs. In June 1984, security forces stormed the Golden Temple in Amritsar to flush out Khalistani militants and their leader Jairnail Singh Bhindranwale. Any support to the Khalistanis at that point was deemed anti-national.

The two were convicted by the lower court. But the Supreme Court threw the cases out and observed:

“Keeping in view the prosecution evidence that the slogans as noticed above were raised a couple of times only by the appellant and that neither the slogans evoked a response from any other person of the Sikh community or reaction from people of other communities, we find it difficult to hold that upon the raising of such casual slogans, a couple of times without any other act whatsoever the charge of sedition can be founded.”

The court added that it did not appear that the police “should have attached much significance to the casual slogans” raised by two a couple of times and “read too much into them”.

Leona’s case is similar. Even if for a moment it is assumed that her intention was only to chant “Pakistan zindabad” and nothing else, it was merely a statement.

While it could be deemed irresponsible given the political atmosphere, the fact that there was no serious response from others to this slogan makes it unfit to attract the sedition provision under Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code.

In fact, the reaction was the exact opposite: the organisers immediately took the microphone away from the woman and condemned her statements. Thus, no feelings against the government were excited by the statements, a requirement to fulfill charges under the law.

Given the Supreme Court precedent, it is unfortunate that the magistrate acted in a mechanical manner and did not apply his mind before sending Leona to judicial custody. Legitimising unfounded sedition charges acts as a catalyst in perpetuating opinions that certain sections and communities are “anti-national”.

This is not the first time the sedition law is being invoked for merely making statements in the context of the Citizenship Amendment Act protests. Earlier this month, the Karnataka police booked a parent and a teacher in a school at Bidar for a school play about the citizenship law.

The student production is alleged to have contained statements that criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The students, the youngest of whom was nine years old, were harassed five times under the garb of questioning them.

The sedition law was also invoked against Sharjeel Imam, a Jawaharlal Nehru University student who asked for a blockade of Assam. In this case too, there was no reaction on the ground and the statements were disowned immediately by others.

Earlier this month, the Mumbai Police filed a sedition case against 51 persons for allegedly chanting slogans in support of Imam at a queer pride event.