Criminalization of politics, characterized by the increasing participation of individuals with criminal backgrounds in the electoral process and their subsequent election as representatives, poses a serious threat to India’s democratic foundations. The Association for Democratic Reform (ADR) highlights the alarming rise in the percentage of MPs and MLAs elected with criminal charges. This paper aims to examine the reasons behind the success of criminal elements in politics and proposes essential reforms to decriminalize electoral politics.

Reasons for Criminal Elements’ Success in Politics:

  • Money and Muscle Power: In the highly competitive political landscape, elections have become expensive affairs. Criminal background candidates, often capable of
    self-financing, are preferred by political parties due to their perceived greater win ability.
  • Public Perception and Patronage: There exists a perception that candidates with criminal backgrounds can get public work done efficiently and keep officials in line. This notion of an “enforcer” image gains them support from certain segments of the electorate.
  • Lack of Basic Facilities and Social Cleavages: Criminal candidates exploit social divisions based on caste or religion, making false promises to protect sectional interests. Their ability to deliver where the State fails attracts more followers.
  • Inefficient Criminal Justice System: The low conviction rate of criminal cases against MPs and MLAs, less than 6% as per ADR report, as compared to the national average of 86%, boosts the morale of politicians with criminal charges.
  • Role of Media: Instead of criticizing and mobilizing against criminalization of politics, some media outlets inadvertently glorify criminal-turned-politicians with labels like “Baahubali.”
  • First Past the Post System (FPTP): The FPTP system allows candidates to win elections with less than fifty percent of the votes, which can favor those with strong local support, including criminal elements.

Reforms to Decriminalize Electoral Politics:

Financial Measures:

  •  State Funding for Elections: Implement the recommendation of the Dinesh Goswami committee for state funding of election processes to reduce candidates’ dependency on private sources, including criminal elements.
  • Transparent Electoral Campaign Spending: Make political donations publicly accessible to ensure accountability and prevent illicit funding.

Strengthening the Election Commission:

  •  Empower the EC: Grant the Election Commission the authority to deregister political parties involved in electoral corruption and criminal activities.
  •  Declare Elections Invalid: Introduce provisions in the Representation of the People Act (RPA) to empower the ECI to declare elections invalid in cases of excessive money usage.

Amendment to the RPA Act 1951:

  • Follow Law Commission’s Recommendations: Amend the RPA Act as suggested by the Law Commission in its 244th report, including the filing of false affidavits as a group practice under section 123 of the act.

Mass Awareness Campaigns:

  • Collaborate with Election Commission, Civil Societies, and Media: Conduct widespread awareness campaigns to educate citizens about the grave consequences of electing criminals to politics.

Reforms in Criminal Justice System (CJS):

  • Expedite Trials: Implement measures to fast-track trials of politicians facing criminal charges to ensure timely justice.


The criminalization of politics is a grave concern that threatens the very foundation of India’s democracy. The rising trend of criminal elements entering politics requires urgent attention and comprehensive reforms at legal, institutional, and societal levels. By addressing the reasons behind their success and implementing the suggested reforms, India can hope to decriminalize its electoral politics and promote good governance, justice, and social harmony.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish March 12, 2024