When Crime Pays | Milan Vaishnav

Summary of: When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics
By: Milan Vaishnav


In ‘When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics’, Milan Vaishnav offers a deep dive into the Indian political landscape and the rising involvement of criminals in political office. The book explores the factors that make the Indian public sector susceptible to corruption and how criminals have turned politicians, capitalizing on the system to bolster their illegal endeavors. Vaishnav examines the culture of corruption in India and sheds light on the reasons behind voters’ support of criminal politicians. Get ready to unpack the complex relationship between crime and politics, and the growing influence of politicians with rap sheets in the world’s largest democracy.

Criminal Politicians: A Norm in India

India’s political system is rife with criminal politicians who exercise their power through fear and violence. This book summary sheds light on the commonality of criminal elements in politics in India, where even lawmakers who have committed serious crimes continue to hold office. The summary also highlights how the complex land regulation system provides a breeding ground for granting discretionary access to land by politicians and bureaucrats, where corruption is rampant. Despite the Supreme Court of India ordering politicians to disclose their criminal history in 2003, the number of politicians facing serious criminal charges has increased over the years. Research shows that 21% of Indian politicians faced serious criminal charges in 2014, compared to 12% in 2004. This book summary brings to light a grave reality in India’s democracy, where the line between criminals and politicians is blurred.

Corruption and Criminality in Indian Politics

Indian politics enables candidates with criminal backgrounds to thrive due to inadequate law enforcement, systemic corruption, and politicians exploiting a weak state. Criminal politicians can exploit the bureaucratic regulations for profit and use their authority to promote their illegal activities.

The prevalence of politicians with criminal records in Indian politics is a concerning trend. In the 2004, 2009, and 2014 general elections, candidates with criminal backgrounds were three times more likely to win than their clean counterparts. This trend highlights a grim reality in Indian politics—the low priority given to law enforcement. India has the smallest number of police officers per capita among the G20 nations, and most engage in bureaucratic duties, leaving little to no effort towards crime-fighting.

India’s public sector is susceptible to corruption due to three prevalent factors. Firstly, the country’s bureaucratic proceduralism is tangled with rules and regulations, making it easier for politicians to reap the rewards of their office. Secondly, while everyday citizens are over-regulated, politicians are scarcely monitored. As such, politicians who seek bribes often go unchecked. Thirdly, India’s inability to provide basic goods and services to its citizens creates a scenario where corrupt politicians exploit this loophole for profit. This environment creates an opportunity for organized criminals to find political office useful for their illegal activities.

Raghuraj Pratap Singh, commonly known as Raja Bhaiya, is a classic example of a criminal-politician who has won elections to the Uttar Pradesh state assembly in five consecutive elections and appointments to state cabinet positions, despite reports of looting the state food programme and facing various criminal charges, including kidnapping and attempted murder. His constituents vote for him because they view his criminal background as an advantage that implies he can get things done. Criminal politicians who take advantage of lax regulations are less interested in accepting petty bribes than exploiting state resources for personal gain.

In summary, the Indian political system is a fertile breeding ground for corruption and criminality due to inadequate law enforcement, systemic corruption, and politicians exploiting a weak state. This trend must be addressed to ensure a fair and just political system that serves the best interests of all Indian citizens.

The Intersection of Politics and Crime in India

In India, the use of criminals in politics has a long history. It began with politicians hiring them for elections, and by the 1980s, violence and intimidation were widespread. Criminals eventually realized they could take power for themselves, leading them to run in elections. By doing so, they could enjoy job security and the benefits of holding office without having to work for someone else. Today, while the phenomenon of criminal politicians may be a recent development in other countries, it is a longstanding issue in Indian politics.

Money and Violence in Indian Elections

Indian elections are plagued by intimidation, bribery, and a lack of campaign finance regulation. Candidates with deep pockets and criminal records often prevail, as voters accept bribes from multiple candidates. Holding political office is lucrative, hence the willingness to spend heavily on campaigns.

India, with a population of 1.25 billion and fiercely competitive party system, has struggled to regulate its election finance. By the 1990s, money became the primary tool for rigging elections. With weak political parties who favor candidates who can bankroll their campaigns, running for office can cost around $2 million.

The final days of the campaign are when most of the spending occurs. Candidates and their supporters dole out cash and liquor in exchange for votes. Vote-buying is an inexact science, and it’s an accepted reality that voters take bribes from multiple candidates.

The criminal-to-candidate transition has also led to an increase in the incidence of coercive violence around elections. Violence has become a tool to intimidate voters and rival candidates. Campaign finance regulation is at an all-time low, but candidates are willing to spend heavily because holding a political position is often lucrative.

According to an analysis of legislators’ financial disclosures, lawmakers saw their average wealth soar by 222% after just one term. Candidates with criminal records often enter the political arena better off than those without. The median wealth of a clean candidate is $13,500, well below the $62,000 for the typical candidate facing a serious criminal charge.

Understanding the unwritten rules of vote-buying is crucial to winning elections in India. Candidates who fail to grasp them find themselves on the losing side. Voters will accept bribes in cash rather than alternatives like cell phones, which they perceive as insultingly frugal.

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