How representative are our representatives?
The ADR report shows there is a wide gap between the incomes of voters and leaders
India’s general elections are not just one of the most complex administrative exercises in the world, they also attract a wide variety of candidates from different social and economic backgrounds. According to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), nearly a fifth or 19% of the close to 8,000 candidates contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha polls have criminal cases pending against them, while 29% have assets worth ~1 crore or more. Over the years, the number of candidates with criminal cases against them has increased as have the assets of candidates. The share of candidates with criminal cases increased from 15% to 19% between the 2009 and 2019 elections, while the share of crorepati candidates increased from 16% to 29%.
While the ADR report reveals a lot of what is wrong in the political process, it also highlights an important issue. Candidates are meant to be representatives of the electorate. But the figures reveal that is not the case. While nearly a fifth of the candidates have criminal cases pending, it is unlikely that one-fifth of the country’s voters have cases against them. Candidates are also far richer than the voters they represent. For example, 50% candidates contesting the 2019 elections own net assets worth less than ~23.1 lakh. But, according to Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report 2018, 50% Indians had wealth worth less than $1,289 or about ~90,617 at the current exchange rate. Many of India’s political candidates could not be more different from the voters they represent.