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New Delhi: Half of all winning candidates in the recently-concluded Punjab assembly elections have criminal cases against them, a March 14 report by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Punjab Election Watch (PEW) has revealed.
The report, which analysed the self-sworn affidavits of all 177 successful candidates in the election, also revealed that 23% of these candidates had ‘serious’ criminal cases against them, in addition to other findings related to the candidates’ financial details, education backgrounds, gender and so on.
Of the 117 successful candidates, 58 (50%) had criminal cases against them. In the last Punjab assembly election, held in 2017, this figure stood at 16 (14%).
Of these 58 candidates, 52 were from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which swept the election, winning 92 seats, meaning that 57% of the party’s successful candidates declared criminal cases in their election affidavits.
Moreover, three of the Congress’s 18 winning candidates declared criminal records, as did two of the Shiromani Akali Dal’s (SAD) three and one of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) two winners.
Additionally, 27 (23%) winning candidates declared ‘serious’ criminal cases, as compared to 11 (9%) in 2017.
The ADR and PEW report classifies crimes as ‘serious’ if the offence committed has a maximum punishment of five or more years; if the offence is non-bailable; if it is an electoral offence, such as bribery (Indian Penal Code Section 171E); as well as offences related to loss to the exchequer; rape, murder, assault or kidnapping; offences detailed in Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act; offences under the Prevention of Corruption Act; and crimes against women.
As such, 23 of the AAP’s winners have cases for serious crimes against them, compared to two from the Congress and two from the SAD.
AAP candidate Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal, who won from Ajnala in Amritsar, has charges under IPC Section 302 (murder) pending against him, among others. Similarly, the AAP’s Daljit Singh Grewal, who won from Ludhiana East, has, among others, charges under IPC Section 307 (attempted murder) pending, as does Sheetal Angural, the AAP’s winning candidate from Jalandhar West.
Angural is also faced with a litany of other charges, including mischief committed with fire or explosive substances, kidnapping and abduction, assault to deter a public servant from committing their duty, charges under the Arms Act, and many more.
The report also details the number of ‘crorepati’ winners in the Punjab election. 87 (74%) successful candidates have assets amounting to greater than Rs 1 crore; a reduction from the 95 (81%) crorepati winners in 2017.
Indeed, the AAP’s campaign in the run-up to its landslide success focused heavily on the party fielding ‘common man’ candidates who don’t come from wealthy financial backgrounds.
However, 63 (69%) of the AAP’s 92 winning candidates declared assets of more than Rs 1 crore. For the Congress, 17 (94%) of 18 candidates were crorepatis and for all other parties, all successful candidates were crorepatis, including the one independent winner.
The ‘common man’ angle is central to the AAP’s party identity as a whole and it was no different in the party’s campaign prior to the election. Much was made of candidates like Labh Singh Oghoke – who defeated incumbent Congress chief minister from the Bhadaur seat – whose election affidavit notes that his only possession is a 2014 Hero Honda motorcycle and who challenged Channi’s claims of being a “gareeb ghar ka beta” (son of a poor household).
Similarly, AAP’s first time candidate and youth leader Narinder Kaur Bharaj was lauded by the party’s chief minister designate Bhagwant Mann when he said that she does her household chores before going out to campaign.
While Ugoke and Bharaj, indeed, have the second and third lowest assets among winning candidates respectively, 69% of the party’s winners being crorepatis – while being considerably lower than those of other parties – certainly puts a dent on its ‘common man’ image.
As does the fact that the candidate with the greatest assets declared, realtor and former Mohali mayor Kulwant Singh, is also an AAP candidate. Singh, in his election affidavit, declared assets worth over Rs 238 crore.
Gender and education
The 2022 Punjab elections only saw a marginal improvement from 2017 in terms of gender inclusivity with only 13 (11%) of winning candidates being women, compared to 2017’s 6 (5%). From all mainstream parties in the state, only 37 female candidates were fielded in the first place.
In terms of education, 45 (38%) of successful candidates across parties declared their education level as being between grades 5-12. 67 (57%) have educational qualifications of the graduate level or above and five winners are diploma holders.