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One in three of Modi's MPs faces criminal charges

Publication Date : 22-05-2014


India's Prime Minister-designate Narendra Modi has promised to clean up Indian politics of criminal elements, but faces a massive challenge as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) romped to victory with a large number of parliamentarians facing criminal charges.

Out of 282 BJP MPs in Parliament, 98 or a third of the group face criminal charges, according to an analysis by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an election watchdog.

And of the 98, 63 face serious criminal cases ranging from murder to kidnapping to causing communal disharmony.

For instance, BJP parliamentarian Sakshi Maharaj from the populous state of Uttar Pradesh has eight cases pending against him and was briefly on the run last year after being accused of the murder of an associate.

Incoming BJP MP Rama-shankar Katheria has 21 criminal cases against him, including attempted murder.

"So far, political parties have shown no intention of doing anything about it in terms of giving tickets to those with criminal records," said Professor Jagdeep Chhokar, founder and trustee of the ADR.

"Modi has said in the next one year he will make sure there are no people with criminal records in Parliament. Either they will be exonorated or disbarred; we have to wait for a year to see what happens."

Other political parties do not have a clean sheet either, with eight out of 44 Congress parliamentarians facing criminal charges.

Congress' Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury from the eastern state of West Bengal has 16 criminal cases against him, ranging from murder to rioting.

Local mafia dons, strongmen and criminals have always been prominent in Indian politics.

Their influence and wealth serve political parties looking for a win in a country where they need to get the support of multiple castes and religions.

So the number of candidates with criminal charges has been rising - from 24 per cent having criminal charges being elected to the Lower House in 2004, to 30 per cent in 2009 and 34 per cent this year, according to ADR data.

G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, a member of the BJP's electoral reforms committee, said: "This is a malaise that has afflicted the political system and electoral politics for a very long time. So a clean-up will take a reasonable amount of time."

Last year, the Congress party tried to introduce an executive action to overturn a Supreme Court ruling barring convicted politicians from holding office in order to save one of its key allies.

But sensing a backlash over such a decision, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi dramatically tore up the ordinance, forcing then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to backtrack.

Cleaning up politics of criminal elements was one of the themes of the general election campaign, with Modi promising to refer cases of parliamentarians with criminal charges to the Supreme Court for a speedy trial.

"I think if he takes the step and loses these MPs, he will be appreciated by the public and will be even more popular," said Sudhir Panwar, a political analyst based in Uttar Pradesh.

Meanwhile, India's anti-corruption campaigner Arvind Kejriwal was yesterday sent to jail for refusing to pay a bond of 10,000 rupees (US$170) after he was sued for defamation by a BJP leader, Nitin Gadkari.

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