Democracy implies rule of law and the holding of free election to ascertain the will of the people. But in quite recent times this peaceful process of social change has been much vitiated. Violence, rigging, booth-capturing have become the order of the day. This fact was highlighted during the elections to the local bodies – District Boards, Municipalities and Municipal Corporations and elections to the Lok Sabha and a number of state legislatures. It was found that confirmed criminals and history sheeters, even those who were behind the bars at the time were given tickets by different political parties and what is more surprising is the fact that they won the elections. There was violence on a large scale, not in meheyam alone, but in a number of other places and hundreds of lives were lost. The cult of the gun prevailed; goondas and criminals, often hired for the purpose, captured booths, indulged in rigging and violence or threats of violence, and in this way the entire democratic process was negated.
The Government and law enforcing authorities remained helpless in the face of this muscle-power and gangsterism unlimited. To-day a number of Chief Minister have close links with criminals, a large number of M.P.s and M.L.A.s are men with criminal records. Criminals have infiltrated into Indian socio-political life and future of Indian democracy seems to be bleak. Gun-looting goondas and gangsters move about merrily eliminating their political opponents and creating terror, and nobody seems to fear much for this show of naked and unabashed violence. It seems that nobody has the means or the will to put down such nefarious activities with an iron hand.
Criminalization of Indian politics and the consequent cult of the gun is the greatest danger that faces Indian democracy to-day. Leaders of all political parties and intellectuals deliver eloquent speeches expressing their abhorrence at the infiltration of criminals into the electoral arena. Stress is laid on eliminating the use of muscle power in the electoral process. Yet, the majority of the parties remain satisfied with expressing such pious sentiments. In any case there is no inhibition in securing the services of musclemen and anti-social elements in order to ensure success at the hustings. Quite often the plea put forward for this purpose is that it is a defensive measure to off-set and resists the doings of the anti-social elements engaged by the rival candidates. The malady has gone deep into our body politic and unless we can deal with it with a firm hand in ruthless manner, the danger is that the electoral process would pass into the hands of anti-social elements and thus slide down and degenerate into a farce.
The entry of criminals into the political arena has caused havoc in the sphere of the administration of criminals’ justice. The likelihood of injustice in a democracy is supposed to be much less than under systems where civil liberties are suppressed and there is absence of democratic norms. There is thus a close relationship between democracy and rule of law. These two along with liberty, are indeed considered to be the three faces of the supreme trinity which presides over the destiny of all liberal societies. Each one of them is vital for the survival of the other two, for the negation of one would prove fatal for the other two.
Democracy needs restraints and a willingness to abide by a code of self-discipline. It has been recognized that even though man be only a little lower than angles, he has not shed the brute within him. The murderer lurks not far beneath to break out from time to time. To curb and control the brute within man and to prevent the degeneration of society into a state “red with tooth and claw”, we need the rule of law and a suitable agency to enforce it. Such an agency is furnished by the Courts. Criminal law is, therefore, looked upon as the most effective weapon of social defense.
Despite all the professed abhorrence for the use of muscle power in the course of elections, a large number of politicians take its aid. It may be that some make unabashed use of it with a view to intimidate voters for securing their votes, while many others take the help of muscle power as a defensive strategy against the muscle power of rival candidates. The result is that the use of muscle power has become a regular feature of the electoral process. The intellectuals may decry this practice, the newspapers may carry long articles in condemnation of it, the public spirited persons may describe it as a negation of free and fair elections but the fact remains that the vice exists and one cannot run away from harsh reality. Large scale violence in a number of constituencies during the elections to the Lok Sabha and various assemblies is a grim reminder of the existence of this malady in the politic body.
It is also a fact that the bigger a Goonda is; the greater is considered to be his usefulness and value during the course of elections. So the politicians take the help of such antisocial elements while contesting the elections. The electoral process thus leads to close links between the anti-social elements and the politicians. The consequence is that when the anti-social elements get into trouble with the law enforcement agencies they invariably look to politicians to extricate them out them of their difficulties. The politicians on their part find it difficult to resist the demands of the criminals to whom they are indebted. In fact the help rendered by politicians to anti-social elements, when the latter are in difficulty is a kind of return for the support given by the anti-social elements to the politicians at the time of elections.
The close links of the anti-social elements with the local politicians act as a deterring factor for the law enforcement agencies from proceeding and taking strong action against them. During recent years, however, we have come across action a new strategy being adopted by such anti-social elements. Many of them are swayed with the idea that if their grip over substantial sections of the electorate by erosion and intimidation or otherwise, and their capacity for booth-capturing and rigging or use of other unfair means, at pistol and dagger points can ensure the election of others, why should they not use that grip or capacity for ensuring their own election as member of the legislatures?
According to newspaper reports about 100 elected members in a State legislature during the last five years had criminal history-sheets. We can well imagine the fear of policemen while dealing with such elements. Many policemen in these circumstances consider “discretion to be the better part of velour” and turn a blind eye to their nefarious acts. Experience also tells us that once a person gets elected to a legislature the election secures for him not only some kind of reprieve from legal process for his past activities, but also affords him virtual immunity from further proceedings against him for breach of criminal law. It is no doubt true that this is not legally permissible and the law does not countenance such a state of affairs, but ways are always found to circumvent the law.
There is rampant interference in the course of investigation of criminal acts of local politicians. That there is such interference is a harsh reality which cannot be denied. There can also be no doubt that unless there are efficient investigation resulting in the collection of credible evidence, the prospect of securing the conviction of the accused culprits as a result of judicial trial, becomes extremely remote. This has led to a situation of increased incidence of acquittals in major criminal cases involving M.P.s and M.L.A.s and even ministers
Once the impression prevails that it is difficult to secure the conviction of an accused in a court of law, the victim of the offence of their close relatives, look to extra-legal methods to settle score with the culprits. Such a situation means a collapse of criminal justice and these results in a state of the chaos and anarchy. The effectiveness and potency of the administration of criminal justice can be ensured only if we can eliminate, or at least minimize, political and other extraneous interference in the investigation of crimes.
All right minded citizens should put their head together t find out ways and means of saving Indian democracy from this menace. If criminals continue to flourish without any check and carry on their activities no body’s life, property and honor would be safe. Indian democracy must be saved from the prominence of criminals and all the evil that it implies. Under no circumstance should law be taken into one’s own hands. However, in this respect the rules of the country themselves are not free from blame, for they have been guilty of inciting the people to take recourse to violence.