Strip numbers, see truth
Indian Parliament has over has over 34 per cent of MPs with criminal records and the situation is no different across all state Assemblies. The data is much touted around as if to suggest that we have become a nation of criminal rulers. But what escapes us is that a candidate with a criminal record is thrice (18 per cent probability) more likely of winning the elections than a candidate with a clean slate (only 6 per cent). Does it mean that we have also become a nation of voters who love criminals? The problem with statistics is that while the numbers make up for a good story anchor, it allow us to justify our prejudices and fuel our worst fears, these unfortunately hide more than reveal the real story.
The politics in the country at local levels is a full-fledged profession and with stakes high in terms of the earning potential of a local politician, it resembles the IPL league. You play two-three seasons, that is, win two-three elections and you would retire with enough unofficially earned money and enough official pensions and perks to put your coming generations in comfort. Given that, it has naturally become fierce and no-holds barred competition.
The common rule in police is FIR for opposition and GD (general diary) for the ruling party leaders. So if a local opposition leader is highlighting say lack of sanitation in his area and the crowd turns restive and upturns a state bus parked nearby, the police under a little prodding from the ruling party guys will promptly name him as agent provocateur and file an FIR against him. Along with unlawful assembly (S141, 142, 143 IPC), rioting (S146, 147, 148 IPC)with common intention (S34 IPC) — all bailable offences — some non-baialble section of law will cleverly be slipped in to “tight-karo” hi. This is especially true if elections are round the corner.

But as for the data, he has now become a criminal. If the same person is on the side of the ruling party, he is likely to get out with a GD reference, which is nothing but a mere passing reference registered in the police station concerned and is not likely to ever qualify as a crime. If one breaks down the data and segregates it for serious, non-political and generic crimes like murder, rape, extortion, dacoity, eve-teasing etc, the situation on ground looks somewhat heartening and not as bleak.
Further, if one further segregates the number of criminal cases which are filed with general sections of law showing that the politician was part of the “conspiracy” (S120b of IPC) and “Common Intention” (S34 of IPC), two sections of Law most commonly misused to include all and sundry you want to fix in future, the data paves way for some hope.
With the police not immune from political pressure, the data has to be stripped and examined for its quality to get to the truth. The figure though lower than 1/3rd will show around 10 per cent of legislatures involved one way or the other in criminal activity. Still not a happy state of affair in a republic that is in the eighth decade of its democratic existence.
The politicians with their ears to the ground know it well that there are 3.1 crore cases pending in the courts and the numbers are rising. When in power, if you can pin down your opposition leaders and supporters with fake FIRs, you can be sure the slow judicial process will do the rest. The bloke will be running around the courts for a decade while in Delhi or in state HQs and in the records of the election commission, he will marked in red for having criminal cases against him.

The public in small towns and villages, who are in the midst of it compared with the insulated middle classes, understands it and frankly does not give two hoots to these criminal cases. For them most of the times the politician has greater credibility than the partisan local administration and police. So a political leader working at the grassroots and against a procedure bound resource strapped departments, trying to somehow fulfill the aspirations and demands of the public, is far more likely to face criminal charges one way or the other as against the arm chair politicians of Raisina Hill.
Such grass root politicians who can flex their muscles are also self-sufficient and self-funded and the political parties need them for financial support. They are needed to fill the rallies of the top leaders with people whose mobilisation they command and in return for this, they are promised protection.

Ironically, Mathieu Chemin in his research work Do Criminal Politicians Reduce Corruption Evidence from India, (2008), showed that the presence of strong local politician in fact reduces the bribe given to the local law and order officials. The weak ineffective leaders, even though personally honest, end up presiding over the most corrupt dispensations as past not too distant has taught us. People also like their leader to be a strong patriarch who can stand up to the local administration, extract concessions for his constituents and protect them as and when required. So long as his daily life is not affected and as long as personal safety of his family is not compromised, he would rather have a strong patriarch than an academic wimp.
Thus the public is happy to overlook the “crimes” of their strong local leader — and the money he makes — so long as he protect them. Preaching on morality apart, such is the story on ground which explains why despite the raving and rantings in the media and in the genteel circles, in the stereotypical bharat, the strong Bahubalis continue to be force large enough to be ignored by any political party.
(Next week we examine how criminals came to command a role in the main stage of politics and the systemic ways to combat and reduce it)

The writer is a former IPS officer and now an entrepreneur
Sachin Shridhar