The campaign for decriminalisation of politics took off with a great launch on 25th March at Ravindra Natya Mandir, Mumbai with a uniquely participatory public meeting. That the campaign for clean governance involves all of us and allows no individual leaders was symbolised by an empty stage with only a mike – at the same time the stage was open to everybody – bankers, industrialists, NGOs, concerned citizens, activists, spokesperson for political parties and candidates who stand for good governance.
A Delhi based organisation kick-started this campaign that was later adopted or supported by a host of Mumbai groups including AGNI, Bombay Catholic Sabha, JaNaM, Group of Groups, H-Ward Citizens Trust, Khar Residents Association, Malabar Hill Residents Association, Anna Hazare's BVJA and others.
An interesting aspect of the No Criminals Campaign is the support from Corporate India. The original financiers of this effort were Puneet Dalmia of Dalmia Cements, Suresh Neotia of the Ambuja Group and Ashish Dhawan of ChrysCapital. They created a pool of Rs 75 lakhs, which has been used to produce the advertisements (Lowe, formerly Lintas, produced the advertisements and logo free of cost, charging only for the production), organise events, pay for material such as the “I Wont Vote for Criminals” badges that were unveiled at the event and will continue to be distributed until the elections.
The media has also been a big participant in this effort with many groups including Times and Zee as well as theatre groups such as Adlabs and Cinemax agreeing to air the “nakli saanp” advertisements free of charge.
Achintya Mukherjee, Hon. Secretary of the Bombay Telephone Users Association conducted the proceedings with great aplomb. He said, the purpose of the campaign was to get in as many different voices and opinions as possible, so each speaker was asked to speak for five minutes only. Nearly 15 people, cutting across segments voiced their concerns and opinions.
Sucheta Dalal, the Mumbai coordinator began by explaining the format. She said, “As you can see, there is only a mike on the stage and no chairs. We have chosen this format to say that we, the people, no matter what group we represent are all on par and united in our effort to improve public governance and de-criminalise politics”. If the purpose of the campaign were to be summed up in one thought it is this: to get people to vote and to think about who gets that vote.
A lawsuit by a group called the Action for Democratic Rights (ADR) led to a court order that political candidates with a criminal record would have to disclose it in an affidavit if they wished to contest elections. Since then ADR has been tracking affidavits and informing people about the track record of candidates. Ajit Ranade of ADR explained how their actions and the move to decriminalize politics were already having an impact. Full Speech of Ajit Ranade
Sanjeev Bikhchandani, founder of Naukri.com says: SMS the words NC and your Pin code to 567678
After 26/11 there was a lot of anger amongst the people of Bombay as also in Delhi. In Delhi a few people got together notably Puneet Dalmia, Ashish Dhawan and Suresh Neotia and decided to focus on an issue that is a common denominator – the very bare minimum that we must expect. It was decided that the best issue to focus on was ‘No Criminals’. This is a very basic appeal. We are not saying vote for competent people. We are simply saying don’t vote for criminals. I think this is the least that we should expect from our parliamentarians. We cannot have law makers who are law breakers. What you can do is to SMS the words NC and your Pin code to 567678 and you will receive an SMS regarding the candidates in your area and their criminal record. The purpose is to spread awareness amongst the people. The response from the people has been overwhelming - not just from the metros but from the other parts of India as well.
Arun Nanda, a well known businessman spoke in his personal capacity. He said,What is holding us back is that politics has become a profession for people who seek interests of people in power. We have to select the right people and as they say ‘You get the Government you deserve’. Most of us don’t vote. I was absolutely disappointed when I read a newspaper article which said that because elections fall on a long weekend there would be a low turnout. We all worry which school our children will go to, we worry about whether my shoes are co-ordinated or not but we don’t worry about good governance. What have we led ourselves to? There’s no “I about WE”. How can we after fifty years of independence not care about who we put in the parliament? Why should we tolerate people with criminal records as our representatives? They are our representatives. We think he is a nominee of Party A and Party B but aren’t they in fact your representatives. If you vote for such a representative you are also as guilty, because abetment of crime is a crime as well. So exercise your right to vote. Think about who should represent you and please don’t vote for criminals .
Shaina NC, Maharashtra spokesperson for the BJP was the only representative of a major political party who participated in the No Criminals event. She congratulated the campaign and said, “when we talk about criminals in active public life and politics, I think the fault is ours because professionals like you and me don’t fight elections. I think there is a huge vote bank, which is not for sale, which will be willing to vote for good candidates. This vote bank is voters like you and me. The standard excuse is that we don’t have good enough candidates but that will change only when people like us will go out and vote. Having said that, in the 14th Lok Sabha we have 39 MP’s with criminal background. These are people who have killed, attempted to murder, theft, kidnapping, etc. So I really hope that this campaign is moving from here to UP and Bihar because that’s the place where we really need to educate our fellow Indians”.
Dolphy D’souza, convener of the Bombay Catholic Sabha, who spoke on behalf of the Group of Groups said, “I know for sure that if we all stand together the revolution that would start would ensure that what happened in Bihar (which has no ministers in the State Assembly with criminal records) will happen in the rest of the country. So through this campaign let us ensure that no criminals are elected, at least in Bombay.
Ashank Desai, the founder of Mastek Computers said, “I am here to represent NASSCOM and I am very proud to tell you that in NASSCOM in our council we have discussed this issue. We know that we have to support this campaign of ‘No Criminals’ because we stand up for integrity, we stand up for the name we have created for India. Obviously democracy is our friend; we don’t want our democracy to be represented by criminals”. He felt that though the process of dispersing information was important creating a sense of responsibility and accountability amongst the people towards the candidate they elect was equally important. He said,“If our parliament had 39 MP’s with a criminal record, we the people of this country are accountable for electing them. A person conscience should prick if he is voting for a wrong person”. He concluded by urging the people to vote and also making sure that they do not vote for criminals.
Meera Sanyal—Country Head of ABN AMRO Bank, has decided to put her high-power job on hold to stand as an independent candidate from South Mumbai. She will contest against the likes of Milind Deora of the Congress and Mohan Rawale of the Sena. This was her first public appearance as a Loksabha candidate. She felt that the attitude of people towards politics was wrong. Though people expected leaders in all fields of day to day life to be excellent professionals unfortunately the people did not expect the same from the politicians. She felt that the campaign had further scope by asking the people to vote for credible people. She justified her candidature by saying that she decided to stand for the elections because she felt that our country deserved better leaders. She opined that politics was a noble profession and only the brightest and the best people deserve to be in politics. She concluded by saying that she was overwhelmed by the response she was receiving from the public and asked for more people to come forward and stand for elections.
Abha Singh, one of the four finalists at the Lead India campaign, made some telling points. She said “ The Lead India campaign came along when I was the Director Postal Services in Lucknow. My decision to join the campaign raised quite a few eyebrows but I felt that was the beginning of the middle class joining the political system. But it is not enough merely to fight election, one has to bring about a change in the apathetic attitude of the people”. She said that people need to change their “chalta hai” attitude in order to bring about change and improvement in the country. She called for a consensus between educated people standing for elections. She expressed disappointment at the fact that two professionals were in the fray for the South Mumbai Lok Sabha seat. “These people should strategize the way forward and build a consensus so that the objective is to win, rather than wasting their energies fighting each other because there is no use of crying over spilt milk afterwards”.
Loksatta of Andhra Pradesh, started as a movement and is now a registered political party which is contesting elections in Andhra Pradesh. It is among those fledgling parties that is fully committed to clean politics. Surendra Srivastava, President of Loksatta, Maharashtra took the stage for Loksatta. He said that though the number of criminals in politics has reduced, there is no reduction in the criminality in politics. We are seeing a change in the type of crimes involving politicians. Distribution of money before elections is seen throughout the country. So the entry of professionals is a significant step as this can change this attitude of committing crimes amongst politicians. Now we the people have to make sure that these candidates win and if they do not we are responsible.
Professionals Party of India Set up with the vision to "Improve the Quality of Life of every Indian" Dr.Mona Patel Shah, a well known eye surgeon, who has also worked closely with the exploited women of Kamathipura is PPI’s South Mumbai candidate. She also made here first public appearance that the event. She said that their party wanted to provide that alternative of an educated, non-corrupt candidate that was missing until now. She felt that this campaign of not voting for criminals can not be endorsed enough.
Sharad Kumar, a trustee of AGNI (Action for Governance Network of India) spoke about what AGNI had done over the years to make people aware about their candidates. He said, even this year, AGNI planned to bring out a simple one-page that would tell people in each of the six constituencies of Mumbai, who their Lok Sabha candidates were and what was their background. This would go beyond merely campaigning against candidates with criminal records. Kumar told the people, “they (criminal candidates) pull the trigger, make sure you press the button (to eliminate them from public life)”.
Rishi Agarwal is candidate for the JAGO Party whose mission statement says: We want to build up a new India, which would be free from crime, terrorism, injustice, corruption and reservations; an India where there is respect for creation of wealth; where private enterprise is promoted rather than restricted and where the government is a facilitator of fair business, rather than being an inefficient and corrupt agency for obstructing the growth.
Vicram Crishna, an activist for privacy laws and environment appealed to the people that parties that field candidates with a criminal record anywhere in the country should be boycotted by us.
Rajendra J Thacker of the PPI is the candidate from North Mumbai. He felt this was a noble initiative by the organisers and rendered his whole hearted support. He says asks a simple question to the people of his constituency “Where will you send a criminal; to the parliament or jail?”
Indur Chhugani, standing from Bandra asked for the provision of negative vote if there is no worthy candidate.