India’s political criminals: Don’t call a spade a spade

India's politicians lashed out at allegations that they are all “rapists, murderers and looters” by a top lieutenant of anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare at a weekend Uttar Pradesh campaign rally. But there's no libel suit in the offing yet, and Baba Ramdev, the anti-corruption movement's yoga guru of choice, says there's no crime in calling a spade a spade.

The yogi, who predicted that India's corrupt leaders would come to the same end as Libya's Muammar Gaddafi at his day-long hunger strike Sunday, could well have a point.  One only wishes that both Ramdev and Hazare's people would act more productively — and use the facts at their disposal to help voters spurn the (alleged) crooks.  There's no reason, for instance, that Ramdev or Hazare can't name names and ask voters to toss out some of the folks mentioned below.

Out of the 2,195 candidates vying for seats in the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly, 35 percent have criminal cases pending against them, according to an analysis of mandatory declaration forms by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR). That's not saying they're all crooks, of course. But some of the other numbers suggest we ought to forgive Hazare's right hand man, Arvind Kejriwal, for a little exaggeration.

Take Brijesh Singh, a.k.a. Arun Kumar Singh, representing the tiny Pragatishil Manav Samaj Party. He's under the microscope for 39 criminal cases, which include 47 charges related to murder, according to ADR. Then there's Atiq Ahmed of the Apna Dal, who's facing 44 criminal cases, including 12 charges related to murder. Or Mitra Sen of the Samajwadi Party, who faces 36 criminal cases including 14 cases related to murder.

The alleged criminals aren't limited to the minor parties, either. Half of the candidates from the Samajwadi Party—which many are predicting will win enough seats to lead the next government—have criminal cases pending against them. The nation's second-most powerful outfit, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), isn't much better, at 36%. The holier-than-thou Indian National Congress of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh barely nipped its chief rival for the moral high ground, with 34% of its candidates facing criminal charges. And the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by so-called “Dalit queen” Mayawati came in at 33%.

Meanwhile, though the monthly salary for members of the state legislative assembly (MLAs) is by no means high, the average incumbent candidate declared an increase of nearly $800,000 in his assets over the past five years. Sounds pretty good? Well, on a percentage basis, the average MLA actually tripled his wealth during his term in office. “Looters” or just savvy investors? You make the call.

Kejriwal, the main organizer behind the Hazare movement, put it plainly, according to the Hindustan Times.

"In this Parliament, 163 members have cases of heinious offences against them,” the paper quoted Kejriwal as saying at an election rally in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh Saturday. “In this Parliament, rapists are sitting, murderers and looters are sitting. How can you expect [the] Jan Lokpal Bill [to establish an national ombudsman] to be passed by Parliament? How can you expect that you can get reprieve from poverty and corruption?"

Naturally, the statement provoked an angry response from a raft of political parties. And, according to India's Daily News & Analysis (DNA) newspaper, Lalu Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) intends to bring a “privilege motion” — a stop-everything procedure intended for matters that need urgent action from the parliament – against Kejriwal.

Lalu has been charged in several corruption cases, including an alleged “fodder scam” involving the embezzlement of funds from Bihar's animal husbandry department. But so far he has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing.

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