An Unholy Nexus

A comprehensive look at the electoral marketplace and why voters readily forgive politicians and forget crimes they perpetrate

Despite various allegations of sexual assault and boastful proclamation about not losing voters even if he killed someone in broad daylight, Donald Trump became the U.S. President. Notwithstanding charges of amassing disproportionate assets, J. Jayalalithaa enjoyed a massive fan following and was re-elected Chief Minister of a progressive state like Tamil Nadu. One-third of the Members of Parliament (MPs) elected in 2014 have criminal cases pending against them, and for one-fifth of elected MPs these cases are serious. This translates to more than 100 (of the 543) of India’s lawmakers being charged with some form of serious crime. What is more, this number quickly goes up if one includes elected state legislators and local administrators with criminal records. What does this tell us of our leaders who make laws for their people? More importantly, what does this say about the choices that voters make? What about the implications this has for a democracy?

To understand why voters readily forgive politicians and look away from the crimes they perpetrate, Milan Vaishnav’s new book When Crime Pays is an enlightening read. Vaishnav studies the nexus of politics, money and muscle using India as his case study. He sets himself up for a mammoth task of finding out how widespread crime and impropriety can co-exist alongside free and fair democratic elections. Using a database of candidates’ self-disclosures, which the Election Commission maintains since 2003, Vaishnav crunches data from nearly 60,000 candidates spread across 35 state elections and two national elections. He supplements his desk research with fieldwork in India spanning over seven years where he conducts hundreds of interviews with various stakeholders in the system.

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