A total of 167 candidates, out of the 788 contesting the 89 seats in the first phase of Gujarat Assembly election, have criminal cases against them, with 100 of them facing serious charges like murder and rape, a report by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) said on Thursday.
Moreover, 211 of the 788 candidates contesting in the first phase are 'crorepatis', with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accounting for 79 such nominees.
Criminal cases: AAP tops the list
As many as 21 per cent of the candidates in fray in the first phase of polling in the upcoming Gujarat Assembly elections have criminal cases against them out of which 13 percent are facing "serious charges".
Incidentally, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which usually banks on its "clean" and corruption free image, tops the list with 36 percent of its candidates having criminal cases against them. The party, which is contesting 88 seats out of the total 89, has given tickets to thirty percent of candidates with serious cases such as murder, rape, assault, kidnapping, among others, the ADR said in its report. The party has given tickets to 32 candidates with criminal records.
The report comes amid viral videos of AAP minister Satyender Jain allegedly receiving VIP treatment inside Tihar prison where he is in custody after being arrested in a money laundering case.
Congress and BJP
The Arvind Kejriwal-led party is followed by the Congress, which has fielded 35 per cent of its candidates with criminal cases. Twenty per cent of such candidates are facing serious cases. The grand old party is contesting all 89 seats in the first phase and the number of candidates with criminal cases fielded by it is 31, the report said.
The ruling BJP, which is also contesting all seats in the first phase of the election, has fielded 14 candidates with criminal records. Percentagewise, such candidates account for 16 per cent of its total number and 12 per cent are facing serious charges, the ADR said in its report.
The Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), which is contesting 14 seats in the first phase, has four candidates (29 per cent) with declared criminal cases. A total seven per cent of its candidates have serious criminal cases this time.
In the 2017 Assembly elections, 15 per cent of candidates contesting in the first phase had criminal cases against them, the report said, adding that eight per cent of the candidates then had serious criminal cases.
Some candidates with serious criminal cases are Janak Talaviya (BJP) and Vasant Patel (Congress), the report said. Of the 167 candidates from the first phase, 100 have declared serious cases against them in their affidavit submitted to the Election Commission. These include nine cases of crime against women, three cases of murder and 12 cases of attempt to murder. In 2017, there were 78 such candidates in the fray in the first phase, it added.
Red Alert Constituencies
The ADR has also tagged 25 out of the total 89 constituencies in the first phase as "red alert" seats, or those where three or more candidates have declared criminal cases. As per the Election Commission's directions in compliance with the Supreme Court order dated September 25, 2018, it is mandatory for all political parties to upload on its website the information on pending criminal cases and reasons for selection of such candidates.
The information is also required to be published in a local and a national daily and uploaded on official social media platforms. "These directions are not followed properly...We have noticed that information is published in local newspapers in Gujarati, but the declarations are in English. Also, the font size of such information should be 12, but they have published details in very small font size," said Anil Verma, head of the ADR, at a press conference addressed via video link.
In its note, the report observed that the directions of the Supreme Court have "no effect on the political parties in selection of candidates in the first phase of the election as they have again followed their old practice of giving tickets to around 21 per cent candidates with criminal cases". "The SC's direction on selection of candidates (with no criminal background) has not made much difference. This is not for Gujarat alone. In the past elections also the situation was the same," Verma told reporters. He said that the reasons given by the political parties to the Election Commission as to why they select such candidates are "hilarious".
"For example, if a candidate is booked in a murder case, the party said that he is a good social worker and we did not find any other suitable candidate," he said. "In many states we have observed that the reasons mentioned by parties for selection of such candidates are exactly the same," Verma added.
Apart from criminal history, the Gujarat elections are also seeing a number of rich candidates with 27 per cent of the total number of candidates in the fray having assets worth more than Rs one crore.
Topping the rich list is BJP, which is contesting all 89 seats, and has 79 candidates or 89 per cent of its nominees with assets above Rs one crore. The ruling party is followed by the opposition Congress with 65 candidates at 73 per cent and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) with 33 candidates at 38 per cent. The AAP is fighting 88 seats.
While the average assets per candidate contesting in the first phase of the election is Rs 2.88 crore, Ramesh Tilala, who is contesting from the Rajkot South Assembly constituency as a BJP candidate is the richest one with the total declared assets of Rs 175 crore, the ADR report said.
Indranil Rajguru, a Congress candidate from the Rajkot East seat, follows Tilala with Rs 162 crore assets. Jawahar Chavda, a BJP candidate from Manavadar seat, has assets worth Rs 130 crore, it said.
An independent candidate named Bhupendra Patoliya from Rajkot West Assembly seat has declared zero assets in his affidavit, the report stated. Among the 211 candidates, Rivaba Jadeja, the wife of cricketer Ravindra Jadeja who is contesting from Jamnagar North seat as a BJP candidate, has declared the combined income of Rs 18 crore for 2021-22 for herself, her spouse and dependent. Her own income stood at Rs 6 lakh, her affidavit showed. She has declared assets worth Rs 97 crore, it said.
Of the total candidates in fray, 73 have declared assets worth above Rs 5 crore, 77 others between Rs 2 crore and Rs 5 crore, 125 candidates between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 2 crore, 170 between Rs 10 lakh and Rs 50 lakh, and 343 with less than Rs 10 lakh, the ADR said in the report.
Party-wise, average assets is Rs 13.40 crore for the BJP, Rs 8.38 crore for the Congress, and Rs 1.99 crore for the AAP. The 14 candidates of the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) have declared average assets worth Rs 23.39 lakh.
In the first phase of elections in the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections, a total of 198 or 21 per cent of 923 candidates were "crorepatis", the report said.
(With inputs from PTI)