Three years ago the President of the Congress Party, Sonia Gandhi, called for a consensus on how to prevent individuals with a criminal record from contesting elections met with cross-party approval and public support.
However, there are now more alleged lawbreakers – a third of the current parliament -according to the Association for Democratic Reforms. 162 of the 543 members of the Lok Sabha, the lower house, have faced charges of rape, murder and kidnapping.
The ADR points out that politicians with more illicit funds with which to buy votes are more likely to be elected than those with a clean slate.
In September the Financial Times reported that Rahul Gandhi, vice-president to the Indian National Congress, in a three-minute statement at a press club in New Delhi, described the party’s official policy of tolerance towards criminal members of parliament as “nonsense” and “wrong”.
His statement referred to a legal ordinance prepared by Congress leaders which would bypass a Supreme Court ruling that sitting MPs would be disqualified immediately if convicted in a serious criminal case:
“My opinion of the ordinance is that it’s complete nonsense and that it should be torn up and thrown out”.
“If we want to fight corruption in this country, whether it’s us – the Congress party, or the BJP , we cannot continue making these small compromises, because when we make these small compromises we compromise everything.I personally feel that what our government has done as far as this ordinance is concerned is wrong.”
“That speaks volumes for the current administration”
Two days earlier, David Pilling of the Financial Times had focussed on Narendra Modi, a man considered by some to be a worthy successor to India’s current prime minister:
“The single event that has defined Mr Modi’s career, however, is the revenge killing of more than 1,200 Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, shortly after he became the state’s chief minister. Mr Modi is accused of standing by as mobs of militant Hindus went on a horrible spree of hackings, burnings and rape. He has always vigorously denied those accusations and was later cleared of involvement by the Indian Supreme Court. Still, Washington has made him persona non grata, consistently denying him visas.”
Pilling notes that ‘corporate India loves Mr Modi’, though critics point out that Gujarat’s performance is no better than that of other well-performing states, such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Bihar, and that poverty eradication has proceeded far more slowly than prestige investments.
So: will prestige investments be put before poverty eradication?
Or: honesty before corruption?