Often the political parties take refuge under the argument of the “winnability” of the candidates when accused of giving tickets to people with criminal backgrounds. Another argument put forward is that the cases are “politically motivated”. But this time around, in a positive sign of changing times and increasing political awareness among the masses, both the major parties in the fray for the Gujarat elections—BJP and Congress—seem reluctant to give tickets to tainted candidates.
In light of the Supreme Court taking a sterner position concerning the rise in the number of criminals in politics and public life, major parties are now wary of getting tainted candidates on board. This in effect may result in as many as 45 MLAs of the current lot not being able to seek reelection.
A Supreme Court bench of Justices Rohinton Nariman and S Ravindra Bhat had directed political parties to publicise criminal records of candidates on their websites and social media outlets, latest by 48 hours of announcing candidature. The particulars will include the nature of pending offences, whether charges were framed, the name of the court(s), and case number(s), for the benefit of the electorate.
During the 2017 assembly elections, 22 percent of Congress and 13 percent of BJP candidates were facing serious criminal charges, such as murder, kidnapping, and rape. Eight candidates from the BSP, three from the NCP, and one from Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP also figured in the same category at that time.
Mahesh Vasava, son of former JD(U) MLA, Chhotu Vasava, had the most number of cases registered against him—24, including two for murder and one for attempt to murder. Mahesh Vasava won the election from Dediapada (ST) seat of Narmada district on a Bharatiya Tribal Party ticket. BJP candidate for the Wankaner seat in Morbi district, Jitendra Somani, was facing 13 criminal cases. He however lost the election by 1,361 votes. Congress candidate from Talala seat in Gir Somnath district, Bhagwan Barad, facing four criminal cases, including that of dacoity, theft and assault at the time of candidature won the seat with 58.82 percent votes polled in his favour.