In India’s Bihar state, convicted politicians turn to wives to hold office

Barred from running for election, at least six field their spouses as candidates in Bihar state

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2014, 10:06pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2014, 10:06pm

Indian politicians whose criminal convictions have prevented them from running in the nation's general election are fielding their wives as candidates in this year's race instead.

Following a Supreme Court ruling last year that barred people convicted of crimes carrying prison terms of at least two years from continuing to serve in office or running again in federal and state elections, the political careers of more than a dozen leaders in Bihar state ended.

But, in an attempt to regain their clout, at least half a dozen politicians who have criminal convictions or are currently serving time in jail have fielded their wives as candidates in the month-long general election that began on Monday.

These politicians include former members of parliament and a former chief minister of Bihar.

Former MP Mohammad Shahabuddin, who is in jail for abduction with intent to murder, has fielded his wife, Heena Shahab, as a Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) candidate in Siwan. It is the second time she has run.

"In 2009 I was new in politics and I could not campaign the way I needed. So I lost that time," Shahab, 41, said. "This time I am campaigning quite well. I am sure I shall win this time."

Former legislator Ranbir Yadav, a convicted murderer, has placed both his wives in politics. Yadav's first wife, Poonam Devi, won a position as a Bihar state legislator running for the Janata Dal (United) party in 2010.

Now he has fielded his second wife, Krishna Yadav, as an RJD candidate in the federal Khagaria constituency. Poonam and Krishna are sisters.

Ranbir Yadav said that his first wife would campaign for his second wife in the run-up of the elections. "Although Poonam is a JD (U) legislator, she will campaign for Krishna contesting on an RJD ticket. If anyone or any party has the power to stop this, I challenge them to do so," he said.

Veena Devi, wife of another politician-turned-murderer, Surajbhan Singh, is running as the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) candidate in Munger constituency.

Former Bihar chief minister and senior RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav is perhaps the most notable of the convicted politicians to have wives running as candidates. In 1997, when Prasad was involved in an infamous corruption scandal, he installed his wife, Rabri Devi, as the chief minister of Bihar. Devi, who had previously been a housewife, remained chief minister until she was voted out of power in 2005.

Prasad was last year sentenced to five years in jail, so his wife is again running in his stead as an RJD candidate in the seat of Saran, known as a stronghold of the party.

While the Supreme Court ruling has prevented many politicians with convictions from running, there are scores of other sitting MPs and state legislators who are facing criminal charges.

About 20 per cent of candidates in the general elections are facing criminal charges, some accused of rape, murder and extortion, according to research published last week by the Association for Democratic Reforms think tank.