“In Indian politics”, writes Dan Morrison in the NYT‘s Latitude blog, “crime pays.” In Uttar Pradesh at least, that seems to be the case. Politics there is permeated by crime; 139 of 404 legislators in the current state government face criminal charges, including murder.Thirteen of the ruling party’s legislators are accused of murder. Others have served time for mafia-related crimes as well as rape, murder, and abduction.Consider the story of Brijesh Singh, currently in jail in Ahmedabad. Mr. Singh allegedly ran a gang of contract killers and is charged with over forty crimes, including the murder of 13 people in 1994. He is running for a seat in the state assembly.Or this:
The next most dreaded criminal is Om Prakash alias Munna Bajrangi. Lodged in Tihar Jail for alleged involvement in the murder of over 40 people, as well as abduction, he is a candidate of Apna Dal [a political party] from Madiyahun in Jaunpur…He had allegedly murdered BJP [a rival party] leaders Anil Rai, in 1993, and Ramchandra Singh, in 1996. A sharp-shooter and contract killer, Bajrangi is also accused in the murder of BJP MLA Krishnand Rai and his seven bodyguards.
The worlds of politics and crime are blurred in Uttar Pradesh. Dozens of politicians are described by the Indian press as “dons.” Many have served time or operate in politics despite outstanding criminal charges. At least ten convicted politicians are running for assembly seats from jail. Prison sentences are often short, and even then convicts find a way to stay involved in politics: one of Mr. Singh’s rivals was granted “temporary parole” so he could return home in time for his political campaign. “It’s very tribal,” a veteran politician told the NYT. “People are voting for someone to protect them. Not to lead them — that’s something different. They want protection.”Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populated state. If it were its own country, it would be the fifth-most populous nation in the world, ahead of Brazil, which has thirty-five times the space. Politics here reverberates nationally. The Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh is the state’s second-biggest party and is aligned to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Congress Party in Delhi. Samajwadi has fielded 28 candidates in state elections who are “tainted” by crimes. It’s worth mentioning that if Samajwadi were to turn the tables on Uttar Pradesh’s ruling Bahujan Samaj Party it would strengthen the PM’s position ahead of national elections in 2014.This, we may safely say, is not what Gandhi had in mind. India’s democracy is real, but it is also really messed up. As America’s strategic interests become ever more tightly linked up with India’s, we are going to have to get to know our new partner, and some of what we discover will be unsettling.