Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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White collar crimes, though bigger thievery are generally ignored

Crime is Not Always a Response Triggered by Deprivation and More Often Than Not, Culprits are ‘White Collared’

When Durkheim talked about deviance, he even goes to the extent of saying that deviance is functional until it is normal but it becomes abnormal if the rate of deviance is unusually high or low. His theory is further carried forward by Robert K Merton, a functionalist who argued that people are differently located in the social structure and not everybody in society gets access to the legitimate means to realize their goal depending on their location in the social structure. And this led to the disjuncture between culturally defined goals and structurally available means. Thus giving rise to “Anomie”.

People of different strata respond to such ‘anomie’ differently and these responses often lead to a deviant behavior. An upper or middle class family can perhaps access the legitimate means to realize their end but people who are economically poor may not get easy access to the structurally available means to realize their committed goal and such situation often turn people away from ideal social life looking for other means to climbed up the social ladder and sometime substance abuse become a safety valve to let out their frustration. But it seems that Merton’s theory cannot account for those politically motivated crimes or the white collar crime. His theory tend to exaggerate working class crime and underestimate white collar crime. There are people who are wealthy enough and are blessed to access both the legitimate means but still place no upper limit to accumulate and might still want more. And for this to happen, people may turn towards illegal ways to fill their ‘War chest’.

In a stable society both the cultural goal and institutionalized means are given equal importance. But when a society gives great importance to material achievement and little importance to accepted ways of achieving the desired goal then the society becomes imbalanced, often rejecting the ‘rules of the game’. It is like a “card game” where winning becomes so important that some players implicitly abandon the rules altogether. Such behavior and attitudes produce many deviant behaviors in our society like bribery, drug smuggling, extortion, protection money, and criminalization of politics and so on.

Edwin Sutherland define white collar crime as committed by person of high social status and respectability in the course of their occupation as distinguish to corporate crime which are committed by and  for the cooperation to further their interest rather than those of the individual but sometime they can overlap. When a politician or a state official is convicted/accused for a crime we tend to blame ‘the individual agency’ intrinsic moral failing often avoiding to address the larger structural and cultural conditioning that motivates the actors to act the way they do. In  an organizational setup which is inbuilt with lies, corruption and betrayal, the person who stands out to perform his/her duty honestly may appear as alien and often get ridiculed within the social circles in the system and the environmental circumstances that lack cooperation may discourages and forces the responsible worker to feel alienated within the group. And if a deviance or for that matter, a corruption is deeply rampant in the group, then corruption might naturally become a normal activity within the cocoon. This may result in the formation of subculture and cultural belief within the institution that normalized the sub-standard practices and people may start acting accordingly to the beats of the drum where group loyalty becomes more important than community values. Though the action which they carried out may violate the legality of social standards outside the organization or can be labelled as criminal but the offender within the organization may not see it as wrong because they are conforming to the cultural norms that exist within the organizational setting. It becomes deviant only when outside ideas penetrate the fabric of the in-group work culture. (Schafer, Jack: Psychopathology of corruption, Vaughan, Diane: Normalization of deviance)

Hypothetically, if we take into account the Indian electoral culture under the prism of the said analysis, it appears that the political culture within the multitudes of Indian political parties and organizations, the criminality in politics seems to be normalized in the system.

According to the report published by a watchdog called Association for democratic reforms and national election watch, in the 2004 national election, the percentage of candidate pending with criminal cases was 24% which rose to 33% in 2009, 34% in 2014 and 43% in 2019 said  Shahabuddin Y Quraishi, a former chief election commissioner.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, 1158(15%) out of 7810 candidates had declared criminal cases against themselves. In 2014, 1404(17%) out of 8,205 and 1500(19%)   out of 7,928 candidates in the 2019 Lok sabha election had criminal charges. The ADR survey also found that 1070(13%) candidates who fight for Lok sabha election 2019, had declared serious criminal cases like rape, murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping, crime against women etc and it is so in 2014, 11% and 8% in 2009.

It is also reported that 233(45%) of the 539 newly elected MPs have serious criminal charges which is based on the affidavit filed by the candidates, 162(30%) in 2009 and 185(34%) in 2014. The report also calculated that the chances of a candidate with a criminal record winning the Lok sabha 2019 election was 15.5% while the winning chance of those with a clean background was only 4.7%, in 2014, the winning chances of tainted candidates were 13% while 5% for clean candidate which reflect the irresponsibility not only for the political parties but also the citizens. (http://adrindia.org)

If we look into the figures it seems that criminals are either attracted to politics or the political parties attract criminals into politics considering their electoral vitality. And one of the reasons why a criminal enters into politics might be the feeling of “insecurity”. One of the fastest ways for insecure criminals to feel good is to place themselves above others and as long as they are in power they can sweep their wrongdoing under the carpet. And in an environment where there is weak rule of law, individuals’ security is in threat, it is likely that vulnerable voters may give their right to the criminal in return for protection out of fear.

In vein with the report published by ADR, it seems that the nexus of crime and politics have institutionalized in Indian electoral culture. And there is a high probability that the percentage of criminals entering into politics might increase in the future too if we look at the past trend.

If we go by the definition of Durkheim, the subsequent jump of criminal percentage in each periodical election is unusually high and their chances of winning shows that the deviant political culture has become pathological but has normalized within the system. Certain deviant behavior like ‘adultery’ and ‘vendors’ who sell alcohol in the black market, when apprehended, here the ‘collective sentiments’ play out so high that the culprits are being mobbed by people, humiliating both physically and mentally in the public. But such type of high ‘value sentiment’ seems to remain passive in the political domain and among the public. And this led to the development of subculture within the organization developing a pattern of political behavior which in course of time became a normal part of the social process.

Humans are said to be a rational being but it seems that they are irrational in terms of economic and political behavior. In this line of thought it appears that Plato’s argument was right, when he says making political decisions require judgment and skill and it should be left to the expert. This notion seems to fit in India where political consciousness is too low and it is unlikely that people would choose the wisest person rather they will go for the person who would give them everything they wanted. So we cannot throw all the blame to the political system and the irresponsible citizens also play a huge part in ‘normalization of deviance’. And this normalization happens when the citizens remain passive making the habitual mistake time and (time) again which led to the deviance becoming normalized within the culture in course of time.

If we are to counter such a culture, the criminal justice system, the ECI and law enforcing agencies have a huge responsibility. The dysfunctional justice delivery system is one of the biggest reasons why such deviance activities get normalized in society. The ready excuse of the politician that they cannot be term as criminal unless they are convicted by the court had come as a long standing tradition. It is a disreputable fact that criminal cases go on for years and decades and politicians are able to get out of the entanglement in various ways and means. Therefore it requires a leonine approach and absolute freedom of judiciary if we are to counter such ‘anomic culture’. And the political parties also have a moral responsibility to make their election financing transparent and not to give ‘party ticket’/way to suspect criminals if the said party genuinely springs up to serve society.

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