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  • Whose nose is longer?

    Posted On October 20, 2005

    By Karan Thapar

    That Indian politics is rotten is undeniable. The more relevant question is how rotten? A study of the candidates in last tuesday’s first round of polling in Bihar provides a horrifying answer. It reveals the extent but also the rank hypocrisy and, ultimately, the utter indifference of all politicians.

    The Association for Democratic Reforms, under the beady eye of its Coordinator, Bibhu Mahapatra, analysed the affidavits of 452 candidates out of the total 541. It found that an astonishing 105 (23.23 per cent) face criminal charges. Worse, 345 (that’s 76.33 per cent) have no PAN number, which can only mean they’re too poor to pay tax or they’re tax evaders!

    But it’s the details that are truly revealing. Guess which party fielded the highest percentage of candidates facing criminal charges? Despite its ferocious attack on Laloo Yadav and its prolonged boycott of Parliament over the issue of tainted ministers, the answer is the BJP (44.4 per cent). But, in fact, none of the parties emerges clean. Everyone of the big five (the others are RJD, Congress, JD(U) and LJP) has at least 33 per cent or more.

    If anything, the Left parties are worse. In ascending order, 25 per cent of the CPI’s candidates, 42.8 per cent of the CPI (ML) Liberation’s, 50 per cent of the CPI (ML)’s and 100 per cent of the CPM’s are accused of crimes.

    And what sort of crimes? They range from rioting, dacoity, extortion and theft to rape and murder. It’s here the Congress achieves a dubious distinction. Its alliance with RJD, CPM and NCP has 11 candidates accused of murder, intent to murder or kidnapping with intent to murder. The BJP/JD(U) tally is 8. Additionally, all 3 Congress candidates accused of crimes are charged with some form of murder.

    Two candidates deserve special mention. From Aurangabad the BJP has fielded Ramadhar Singh with13 criminal cases. The list is too long to enumerate but, incredibly, it includes abetment of desertion of soldiers. To me that sounds like treason. Yet the Party stands for cultural nationalism. You could claim to spot a bit of Bihari culture in this, but where’s the nationalism?

    The other is Congress’s Aditya Singh. Standing from Hisua he faces 20 criminal cases, including 5 for murder and 3 for kidnapping with intent to murder. So when Sonia Gandhi promises to build a new Bihar and chooses such men to represent her I wonder what sort of newness she has in mind?

    Now, let’s see what top politicians have to say. Calling it his “silent and disciplined protest”, Shatrughan Sinha has refused to campaign for the BJP. He asks : “What’s the point of talking about the UPA’s tainted ministers when the BJP has given tickets to people who are wanted in murder cases?” True, except in February he campaigned for virtually the same people. Perhaps his real problem is that he’s not his party’s choice for chief minister.

    L.K. Advani’s position is more inexplicable. First, he claims “the BJP took every care to ensure that no candidate with criminal background would be allowed a party ticket”. Since it’s ended up with a higher percentage than any other party I wonder what he means by “every care”? Then, he asserts “the JD(U) has roped in some candidates with criminal history”, which is true but it’s more true of his own party. Compared to the BJP’s 44.4 per cent, the JD(U) has only managed 33.3. More surprisingly, Advani says it’s Nitish Kumar’s “responsibility to see that these tainted candidates are not made ministers in his government”. That’s not just passing the buck it also implies ‘criminals’ are acceptable as MLAs.

    But it’s the Congress position that is dumbfounding. Not a single voice has spoken out against the quality of its candidates. Could this be ignorance? Indifference? Or fear? You can interpret the silence as you wish.

    Of course, under the law there’s no bar on such candidates. They’re permitted to stand. But this is not a matter of legality as much as propriety. Is it fitting that political parties, pledged to clean the system, should seek to be represented by men (and women) accused of murder, rape, dacoity, extortion and theft? And if they do, doesn’t it mean they don’t care? So the next time L.K. Advani waxes about the dirtiest cabinet in Indian history, or the PM loftily preaches idealism, I suggest they walk to the nearest mirror and examine the length of their nose. Like Pinnochio's, it will have grown substantially.

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