Of the 415 candidates in the 69 constituencies going to the polls on May 22 in the third and final phase of elections to the Karnataka legislative assembly, there are 36 candidates with a criminal record, 23 women, and total declared assets of Rs 650 crore, according to a report prepared by the Karnataka Election Watch committee of the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR).
The BJP has 12 candidates with a criminal record, JDS 7, Congress 6, and other parties 11. There are 5 candidates who are charged with murder or attempt to murder. Several of them are charged with other violent crimes like assault with deadly weapons and so on.
Of the 23 women candidates, the JDS has 6, JDU 6, BSP 3, Congress 3, and BJP 2, and others 3. The total percentage of women in phase 3 is about 5.5% and is extremely low. None of the women candidates have any criminal cases against them. The average assets of women candidates is Rs 90 lakh.
In the first phase there were 17 women candidates and in the second phase 14 women candidates from the major parties. Which means, in all, the major parties which talk of 33 per cent reservation for women, could only put up 54 women candidates. In contrast, they put up 132 candidates with a criminal past.
Congress candidates have declared assets of Rs 347 crore and average candidate assets of Rs 5.03 crore. BJP candidates have total assets of Rs 155 crores at an average of Rs 2.26 crore, JDS candidates have Rs 84 crore and an average of Rs.1.22 crore, and BSP candidates Rs 35 crore at Rs 0.52 crore.
The three major parties account for 89.2% of total candidate assets with average candidate assets of Rs.2.83 crores. Clearly, elections have become a rich man’s game. It is very difficult for Independent candidates to win and the major parties give tickets to candidates with very high level of assets.
There are 24 candidates who have “High Assets” over Rs 5 crore. The Congress has 13 candidates, BJP has 8, JDS 2, and BSP 1. There are 41 candidates who have declared very low assets of Rs 1 lakh or less. The total liabilities of all candidates were Rs 75.19 crore. The Congress candidates had liabilities of Rs.37.22 crore, BJP candidates Rs 15.79 crore, JDS candidates Rs 13.97 crore, and others Rs 8.21 crore.
As many as 69 candidates reported a very steep increase in total assets between the 2004 assembly elections and this election. The average increase in assets was a huge 339.5%.
# Prakash Ramachandra Shirolkar, the SHS candidate from Belgaum south, has seen his assets jump by 10,065 per cent in the last four years.
# Maruti Manapade (in picture, standing), the CPM candidate from Gulbarga rural, has seen his assets jump by 7,393 per cent, from Rs 0 in 2004 to Rs 20 lakh in 2008.
# Ajaykumar Sarnayak, the Congress candidate from Bilgi, has declared an increase in assets between of 2,181 per cent.
# Rajkumar Patil Telkur, the BJP candidate from Sedam, has seen his assets jump by 1,990 per cent.
KEW conclusion: The overall quality of candidates leaves much to be desired. The criminal records in particular are a little alarming. Unless this trend is checked, elections, democracy and overall governance will suffer. A lot of candidates are industrialists from the real estate, liquor, mining and other businesses. Unless business interests are aligned to citizen interests there is a clear conflict of interest. Would such representatives work for citizens’ interests or for their business interests? The average assets of candidates from the major parties were Rs 2.84 crores. A lot of candidates have reported huge increase in their assets from the previous elections. This means that elections are mostly open to the rich and that the stakes are very high and rising from election to election. The steep rise in assets also needs to be investigated so that public trust is restored.
(Karnataka Election Watch is part of a nationwide movement to improve democracy. It is a citizen led non-political, non-partisan effort. This time several NGOs activists and civil society organizations in Karnataka are participating in this effort.)
Photograph: courtesy The Hindu