Mains Articles

Criminalization of Politics in India [Mains Article]

The need for cleansing politics of criminal influence has been flagged once again. The primary sacrifice at the altar of criminalisation is that of governance, along with transparency and accountability.
By IT's Mains Articles Team
January 16, 2018


  • What is the meaning of Criminalization of Politics?
  • Criminalization of Politics in India
  • Key Facts
  • Reasons
  • Suggested measure to curb criminalization of politics
  • Conclusion

Criminalization of Politics in India

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What is the meaning of Criminalization of Politics?  

Criminalization of Politics iastoppers2

  • Criminalization of Politics means that the criminals entering the politics and contesting elections and even getting elected to the Parliament and state legislature.
  • It takes place primarily because of the nexus between the criminals and some of the politicians.
  • The criminals need the patronage of politicians occupying public offices to continue with their criminal activities and the politicians need the money and muscle power that the criminals can offer to the politicians to win elections. In course of time, the nexus led the criminals themselves to contest elections.

Criminalization of Politics in India:


  • In India, it is not a new phenomenon; the first instances of “booth-capturing” were reported in 1957, and involved hired goons who would mobilize or suppress turnout, or vote on behalf of disenfranchised voters. In return for their work, politicians would protect these criminals from prosecution.
  • Until the late 1960s, the re-election rates of incumbents were high. Hence goons were relatively assured of political favours after they helped a politician win the election. As political competition increased, the uncertainty around re-election of incumbent candidates also increased. This led to the entry of criminals in politics in order to maximize control over their own survival and protection.
  • Indira Gandhi banning corporate financing of elections in 1969 which eliminated the most important legal source of campaign finance and pushed financing underground.
  • At the same time, the costs of contesting elections kept increasing due to a rising population, increasing political competition—the number of political parties increased from 55 in the 1952 general election to 464 in 2014—and the trend of giving freebies for votes.
  • This led parties to a competitive search for underground financing, and they played into the hands of criminals and racketeers who had the means to acquire and dispose of large amounts of cash without detection.
  • Thus, parties fielded tainted candidates because they could contest an election without becoming a burden on the party’s limited coffers.
  • Data from the last three general elections shows that the strategy was an electoral success as candidates with criminal cases were three times more likely to win than a “clean” candidate.

Key Facts:

  • 17 per cent of 5,380 candidates contesting the Lok Sabha election 2014 have declared criminal charges in their affidavits submitted to the Election Commission; 10 per cent have declared serious criminal charges such as murder and rape charges.



  • In every election all parties without exception put up candidates with a criminal background. Even though some of us whine about the decision taken by the parties, the general trend is that these candidates are elected to office.
  • By acting in such a manner, we fail to realize that the greatest power that democracy arms the people is to vote incompetent people out of power.

Criminality and Winnability:


  • The evident link between criminality and the probability of winning is further reinforced when we look at the winnability of a candidate.
  • While any random candidate has one in eight chances of winning a Lok Sabha seat, a candidate facing criminal charges is twice as likely to win as a clean candidate.

Vote Bank:

  • The political parties and independent candidates have astronomical expenditure for vote buying and other illegitimate purposes through these criminals or so called goondas. A politician’s link with them constituency provides a congenial climate to political crime.
  • Majority of the voters are manoeuvrable, purchasable. Most of them are individually timid and collectively coward. To gain their support is easier for the corrupt.

Vote Bank ias

Denial of Justice and Rule of Law:

  • The voters, political parties and the law and order machinery of the state are all equally responsible for this. There is very little faith in India in the efficacy of the democratic process in actually delivering good governance. This extends to accepting criminalization of politics as a fact of life.
  • Toothless laws against convicted criminals standing for elections further encourage this process. Under current law, only people who have been convicted at least on two counts be debarred from becoming candidates. This leaves the field open for charge sheeted criminals, many of whom are habitual offenders or history-sheeters.

Lack of governance:

  • The root of the problem lies in the country’s poor governance capacity. On the one hand, India has excessive procedures that allow the bureaucracy to insert itself in the ordinary life of people; on the other hand, it appears woefully understaffed to perform its most crucial functions.

Scarcity of state capacity:

  • The scarcity of state capacity is the reason for the public preferring ‘strongmen’ who can employ the required pulls and triggers to get things done—someone who can enforce contracts, deal with the police when they get into trouble, handle the government babus while procuring a licence or help get admission to a government hospital for treatment.
  • Sometimes these politicians align on communal lines as well, promising to serve the interests of a caste or religious community.
  • Criminality, far from deterring voters, encourages them because it signals that the candidate is capable of fulfilling his promises and securing the interests of the constituency.

Suggested measure to curb criminalization of politics:

  • Bringing greater transparency in campaign financing is going to make it less attractive for political parties to involve gangsters.
  • The Election Commission of India (ECI) should have the power to audit the financial accounts of political parties, or political parties’ finances should be brought under the right to information (RTI) law.
  • Broader governance will have to improve for voters to reduce the reliance on criminal politicians.
  • Fast-track courts are necessary because politicians are able to delay the judicial process and serve for decades before prosecution.
  • The Election Commission must take adequate measures to break the nexus between the criminals and the politicians.
  • The forms prescribed by the Election Commission for candidates disclosing their convictions, cases pending in courts and so on in their nomination papers is a step in the right direction if it applied properly.


  • The need for cleansing politics of criminal influence has been flagged once again.
  • The primary sacrifice at the altar of criminalisation is that of governance, along with transparency and accountability.
  • Expensive election campaigning favours candidates with strong financial background. Such candidates, when elected, seek to recover their expenses besides securing a corpus for the future election as quickly as possible, especially in the era of coalition governments with tenuous stability.
[Ref: Live Mint, Indian Express, Legal service India, The Wire]


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