South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian politics

Author: Milan Vaishnav

Publisher: Harper Collins

Price: Rs. 799

The book ‘When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics’ by Milan Vaishnav gives a comprehensive picture of Indian politics and how money and muscle power are used to win the elections year after year. The author goes into the history of how it began and how criminals and corrupt people are taking advantage of the system. It is not confined to India only. It is visible in our neighbouring countries and even in developed nations. The book highlights on the nexus between politicians, criminals and black money. Obviously, it is affecting Indian democracy.

The author raises uncomfortable questions like how free and fair democratic elections and widespread illegality can comfortably coexist. Over the year’s individuals with criminal reputations moved from the periphery to center stage. It is a matter of concern for the world’s largest democracy.

In the pre-independence period, the Congress was primarily financed by membership contributions and some financial assistance from the big business houses that supported the freedom struggle. G D Birla had a close relationship with Mahatma Gandhi. But, the contribution of big business houses was small compared to the voluntary donations by party members. Gradually, over the years scenario has changed. Now, the contribution of party activists is nothing compared to the financial assistance given by big corporate houses. In the 2014 election, the nexus between corporate houses and a party was clearly visible. It is said that no lunch is free. The rule of the game is big business houses donate huge to the party whom they think has best chance to win.

The first general election was held in 1952. Congress won the election in a big way by winning 364 of 489 seats in Lok Sabha. They also got 45 percent of the votes. The second largest party was Communist Party of India (CPI). The first chief election commissioner (CEC) was Sukumar Sen. He had a very difficult task to do. The elections were held in a free and fair atmosphere. The first recorded incidence of alleged booth capturing took place during second general elections in 1957. It occurred in the village of Rachiyari in Begusarai district of Bihar. It is believed that Congress candidate used criminals to win the elections. The author writes,” By the end of the 1970s, those who had previously engaged in criminal activity on behalf of politicians now decided to directly contest elections, no longer content to concede the spotlight to traditional party elites.”

The statistics indicate that 24 per cent of MPs elected in 2004 faced criminal cases (12 per cent faced charges of a serious nature). This figure grew to 30 percent in 2009 (15 percent serious) and climbed to 34 per cent (21 per cent serious) in 2014. It indicates the growing influence of criminals in the electorate arena.

When T N Seshan became CEC in the early 1990s he transformed the institution and implemented election laws and code of conduct in letter and spirit. Also in 2003 Supreme Court of India (SCI) ordered, in a petition filed by Association for Democratic Rights (ADR) that all candidates have to disclose their assets, qualifications and details of criminal cases pending against him/her in an affidavit.

As far as electoral expenses are concern 2014 elections was the most expensive elections fought ever. It is believed that it was more expensive than US Presidential election. According to official disclosures (which are almost certainly an underestimate), the BJP spent nearly 7.15 billion rupees (or $ 108 million) on the 2014 parliamentary election. More than 40 percent (roughly $  43 million) was spent on media advertisements. The phenomenon of ‘paid news’ was visible. A party’s primary job is to contest and win elections. It requires huge money in country like India. American politician Jesse Unruh said it well when he famously claimed that “money is the mother’s milk of politics.” This money comes from big business houses and ‘black money’ becomes a major component.

It is in this background, many people talks of electoral reforms and suggests state funding of elections. The author’s attempt is to expose the nexus between politicians, criminals and black money. The sad reality is that a third of state and national legislators assume office with pending criminal charges.


Updated On:  Jun 11, 2017