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E D I T O R I A L

Co-opting the crooks
By H.K. Dua

AT a time when persons who have built their careers on crime can easily become MPs, MLAs and ministers, it must have required guts on the part of the special sessions court judge of Siwan to convict RJD MP Mohammed Shahabuddin of kidnapping a CPI (ML) worker.

That it has taken eight long years for the law to catch up with Mohammed Shahabuddin does not speak well of the effectiveness of the system of criminal justice. But the fact is that despite the charge of kidnapping with an intention to murder and his involvement in 35 other cases of serious crime relating to treason, possession of illegal arms, murder, extortion and much else, Shahabuddin’s writ was allowed to run in the badlands of Bihar by an indulgent government of Lalu Prasad Yadav. Shahabuddin lent his muscle to the Lalu government and he in turn gave the don his party’s ticket to become an MP from Siwan.

Like everyone in Bihar, voters in Siwan knew the curriculum vitae of Mohammed Shahabuddin. Yet he could get himself elected to Parliament and sit in the company of Dr Manmohan Singh, Mr Somnath Chatterjee and Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee to make laws for the land.

The political system that has come to prevail does not have the strength to keep other Shahabuddins out of Parliament. There are as many as 40 Honourable Members of Parliament in the present Lok Sabha who have a history of crime.

While Bihar is the basket case of India’s social, political and economic ills, the outgoing UP Legislative Assembly has harboured nearly 200 MLAs with a criminal record. In the current Assembly elections, newspapers have reported that as many as 882 criminals entered the fray under different party labels and as independents. On the day of reckoning tomorrow, many of them may get elected as MLAs. Imagine the results throwing up a hung assembly and the Governor swearing in a government in Lucknow with the help of the criminals-elect!

The political system evolved after a century’s freedom struggle and considerable labour of those who worked hard on the Constitution is unable to keep out of the power structure those who kidnap, rape, kill, extort and do human trafficking and gun-running.

The Supreme Court’s occasional utterances against criminals entering Parliament and State legislatures have turned out to be obiter dicta - just enough to salve the judges’ conscience. The executive has not even cared to react to the worsening scenario. The bureaucrats — civil or police — in the districts know who the local mafia leader is, but often prefer not to take action lest they should annoy a Chief Minister who may be a friend of sorts of the local thug.

The worst are the politicians themselves in various parties who are increasingly relying on criminals’ muscle and money for winning elections and coming to power.

Successive election commissions have tried to persuade political parties to agree on giving it powers to reject nomination papers of the candidates against whom the charges have been framed that could earn them a jail term for two years, or more. Most political parties are totally opposed to the Election Commission’s useful suggestion.

Suddenly, the politicians seem to be concerned about the principle that no one can be presumed to be guilty until convicted. What if the charges turn out to be false and the candidate denied the right to become a lawmaker? They fling the question at you.

What if a criminal with hands bloodied in serious crime becomes a Member of Parliament, MLA or a minister and asserts his or her right to govern the country? They can legitimately be asked.

Neither simple questions of political morality, nor the pledge they take to defend the Constitution, worries the politicians who readily sup with the criminals and co-opt them into the political system.

No one, in the government, or in the opposition, seems bothered about the danger the nation of a billion-plus people and the political system are facing from crooks of the land. The State is being wrecked from within.

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