Forty per cent of India’s parliamentarians, including those from prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), face an assortment of criminal cases, according to a non-governmental organisation report.
The autonomous Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) has revealed that 306 of 763 Indian MPs in both houses of parliament stand accused of crimes such as murder, attempted murder, rape, various crimes against women or kidnapping. Many have also been charged with inciting public hate and disturbing social harmony through incendiary speeches.
Indian electoral rules do not bar potential candidates who are facing criminal charges from contesting polls, but mandate their resignation if convicted while in office.
But India’s notoriously slow judicial system takes years, if not decades, to convict or acquit anyone charged with crimes. Consequently, many such legislators invariably serve out one, if not more five-year terms in office before their cases are adjudicated.
ADR’s analysis is based on the MP’s self-sworn affidavits, which they are required to file before contesting elections. It reveals that 139 – or 36 per cent – of 385 BJP MPs faced an assortment of charges, with seven accused of murder, 24 of attempted murder and 10 of crimes against women, including rape.
Forty-three of 81 MPs from the main opposition Congress Party- or 53 per cent – face criminal prosecution for diverse crimes, with one of its parliamentarians, representing Idukki in southern Kerala state, being charged with 204 cases, including culpable homicide, house trespass and criminal intimidation.
Meanwhile, a Washington-based research project reported this week that the BJP and several of its affiliated social and political Hindu groups were behind most instances of hate speech against Muslims during the first half of 2023.
Hindutva Watch, which documents hate crimes and hate speeches against religious minorities in India such as Muslims, Christians and Sikhs, disclosed that 80 per cent of 255 documented incidents took place in BJP-ruled states and federal territories.
Hindus comprise some 80 per cent of India’s 1.4 billion people, Muslims constitute about 15 per cent, while Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains make up the remainder.
Relying on social media posts, news reports and online video clips to gather its data and confirming it with spot checks and eyewitness interviews, Hindutva Watch said India had witnessed an “escalating trend” of anti-Muslim declarations by the BJP and associated organisations after Mr Modi first assumed power in 2014 and was re-elected five years later.
Senior BJP leader and Delhi legislator Abhay Verma dismissed the findings as “baseless”. He told Bloomberg that his party did not divide India and its people along religious lines, and did not support hate speech.