Theatricality is seldom enough to bury bitter truths. The Union minister, Smriti Irani, has approached the Election Commission against Rahul Gandhi after the Congress leader criticized the Centre for its failure to check the rising incidents of sexual assault in the country while campaigning in Jharkhand. Mr Gandhi, his acerbic tone notwithstanding, has a point. The response of India’s institutions — they include the investigating agencies and the courts — towards such criminal transgressions has left a lot to be desired. Shoddy police work, political apathy and, if required, meddling in investigations, as well as a poor conviction rate have contributed to the burgeoning crime rate. Yet, this is only part of the story. The other, equally shocking, bit has to do with the complicity of lawmakers of every stripe. A survey conducted by the Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch has revealed that among all outfits, the Bharatiya Janata Party — should not Ms Irani take note of this? — has the highest number of legislators facing cases related to crimes against women. A scrutiny of election affidavits filed by members of parliament and legislative assemblies by the two watchdogs shows that the BJP gave electoral tickets to 66 candidates facing grave charges in the last five years. Mr Gandhi’s party has not done too badly either. The Congress has 16 lawmakers in this rogues’ gallery, having fielded 46 contestants with such criminal record in various electoral contests. The outcome has been predictable; there has been a rise of 231 per cent in the number of candidates with registered offences against women in the fray for Lok Sabha elections alone. Incidentally, Bengal — this should shame those who believe that the state is an oasis of safety — has the highest number of MPs and MLAs with declared cases among all the states.
The scale of the collusion across the political spectrum is portentous for a nation where the administrative machinery, more often than not, is loath to go after criminals unless it receives a clear signal from its political masters. The involvement of lawmakers in wrongdoing raises formidable obstacles in the path of justice for citizens. Another distressing, but relevant, concern is the public inertia regarding the criminalization of politics in the country. Voters seem to be quite willing to choose as their representatives leaders with criminal leanings. All this points to the hollowing of the moral heart of politics in India.