Summary of When Crime Pays

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When Crime Pays book summary

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  • Analytical
  • Eye Opening
  • Background


With its stew of languages and religions, India often appears inscrutable to outsiders. Indian politics are no exception. In recent decades, a significant percentage of Indian lawmakers have faced serious criminal charges, including murder, kidnapping and rape. South Asia foreign policy expert Milan Vaishnav lays out the reasons behind this strange development. Criminals have long played a role in India’s electoral politics, he notes; so, is it really surprising that these thugs decided to run for themselves rather than simply act as hired guns? A combination of weak political parties and a weak state mean there’s little to stop strongmen candidates. What’s more, voters find value in politicians who are tough enough to stand up for them. Vaishnav’s fascinating study combines deeply researched data with compelling anecdotes; and while he readily admits the difficulty of solving the problem of rampant criminality in Indian politics, Vaishnav offers up a number of practical ideas which could help shift the nation away from this troubling trend.

About the Author

Milan Vaishnav is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC.


From Prison to the Floor of Parliament

Politicians with extensive rap sheets are a part of life in India. Indeed, they’re so common, plots featuring lawmakers juggling their legislative duties with their criminal enterprises appear in Bollywood movies. A 2008 government deal to spring six members of parliament from prison illustrates just how blasé India’s free-wheeling democracy has become about crime among politicians. Fearing it was on the brink of losing a close vote that would force an early election, the ruling United Progressive Alliance issued furloughs to the six imprisoned MPs. One of those released was Ateeq Ahmed, who had started his criminal activities as a boy poaching coal from passing trains. Ahmed stood accused of the murder of a political rival of his younger brother, among other crimes.

Another furloughed MP was Pappu Yadav, also accused of murdering a political foe. Yadav continued to call political shots from his prison cell. But even Ahmed and Yadav’s criminal histories paled in comparison to that of Mohammed Shahabuddin, nicknamed “Shaahabu-AK” – an homage to the lawmaker’s weapon of choice. Shahabuddin...

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