Patna: About a third of the candidates contesting in the first phase of the Bihar assembly elections have criminal records, with mainstream parties contributing significantly to these numbers.
This despite the Election Commission’s letter to political parties in July, stating that they have to provide reasons for fielding candidates with criminal records. The letter was in line with a Supreme Court order in February on the presence of such candidates in the poll fray.
Parties have in many cases attempted to bypass this by fielding wives and relatives of those with criminal records.
“We are still tabulating the affidavits of candidates who have filed for the first phase. We will be coming out with a report. But roughly 30 per cent of the candidates in the first phase have criminal records,” said Rajiv Kumar, the Bihar representative of the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), the organisation that brings out an audit report on “criminal candidates” during and after polls.
That is nearly 320 candidates as a total of 1,066 candidates are in the fray for the 74 assembly segments that go to polls on 28 October.
Bihar’s additional chief electoral officer Sanjay Singh said his office was unaware if political parties had explained to the EC on fielding tainted candidates. “The political parties were supposed to send their answers directly to the EC. Our office is not aware if they have set their replies,” he said.
RJD leads the pack
The Lalu Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leads the pack when it comes to giving space to ‘tainted candidates’ or their wives.
The party has fielded Anant Singh, who faces around 38 criminal cases, from the Mokama assembly seat. Seven of the cases include murder charges and others range from kidnapping to attempt to murder.
Singh had made his poll debut as a JD(U) candidate in 2005; he had replaced another criminal-turned-politician Suraj Bhan.
Singh has been winning the seat and in 2015 contested as an Independent after falling out with Chief Minister and JD(U) leader Nitish Kumar.
The RJD has fielded another history sheeter Reet Lal Yadav — also an Independent MLC — from the Danapur assembly seat. A notorious gangster, Yadav was only recently released from jail. He has been accused of land grabbing, extortion and attempt to murder, among others, but is considered so influential that Lalu Prasad Yadav once visited him in jail to ensure victory of Misa Bharti in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Pataliputra.
The RJD, however, defends its decision. “These candidates are immensely popular in their constituency and work for the welfare of the people. It is up to the voters to decide on the issue,” RJD spokesperson Mritunjay Tiwari told ThePrint.
In most cases, political parties have fielded wives of dons-turned-politicians. The RJD again takes the lead here — the party has handed the Nawada ticket to Vibha Devi, the wife of former MLA from the constituency, Raj Ballabh Yadav. The former MLA is in jail after being convicted of raping a minor girl.
The party has also handed tickets to the wife and son of the Rajput strongman Anand Mohan, the main accused in the killing of the Dalit district magistrate of Gopalganj, IAS officer G. Krishnaiah, in 1994. He is now serving a life sentence for the murder.
While Mohan’s wife, Lovely Anand, has the RJD ticket from the Saharsa constituency, their son Chetan Anand is also contesting on a party ticket from Sheohar.
The party has also fielded Veena Singh, the wife of the don Rama Singh, at the Mahnar seat in Vaishali district. Rama Singh, a former MP, has a series of charges against him, ranging from murder to kidnapping.
Senior RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh had opposed Rama Singh’s entry into the party right until he passed away last month. Raghuvansh had lost to Rama Singh, then with the LJP, in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The JD(U) has not lagged behind. It has fielded Manorama Devi, the widow of the dreaded Bindi Yadav, at Atri in Gaya. Their son, Rocky Yadav, is in jail for murdering a youth in a road rage case.
The BJP too has fielded Aruna Devi, wife of the don Akhilesh Singh, at Warisaliganj in Nawada. The party has also handed a ticket to Munni Devi, sister-in-law of the gangster Visheshwar Ojha, who was killed in a shootout in 2017.
The genesis of criminals in Bihar politics goes back to the 1980s, when there were very few MLAs with criminal backgrounds but strongmen were used by politicians to capture polling booths.
By 1990, the strongmen themselves began contesting polls. Their rise was aided by the likes of Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar and the late Ram Vilas Paswan.
In the 1990s when it was pointed out that he was giving tickets and support to criminals, Lalu once remarked, “So what? The sage Valmiki was a dacoit.”
The photo of at least six dons-turned-MLAs supporting his 13-day government in 2005 continues to haunt Nitish. The late Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP was notorious for handing tickets to those with criminal records.
“Look at it this way, I am taking them away from crime,” he once said. “They will not indulge in crime once they become MPs and MLAs.”
N.K. Choudhary, a former professor of Patna University, said that the strongmen and politicians share a symbiotic relationship.
“Even though after the use of EVMs, booth capturing has ended, political parties still need criminals to intimidate and terrorise voters,” Choudhary said. “The criminal-turned-politicians feel that if they do not end up being legislators or get the support of political parties, they might end up on the wrong side of law. The nexus between criminals and political parties is complete. The EC needs to be more strict.”