The first comprehensive study of the nexus between crime and democracy in India.

In India, the world’s largest democracy, the symbiotic relationship between crime and politics raises complex questions. For instance, how can free and fair democratic elections exist alongside rampant criminality? Why do political parties actively recruit candidates with reputations for wrongdoing? Why do voters elect (and even reelect) them, to the point that a third of state and national legislators assume office with pending criminal charges?

In this eye-opening book, political scientist Milan Vaishnav takes readers deep into the marketplace for criminal politicians by drawing on fieldwork on the campaign trail, large surveys, and an original database on politicians’ backgrounds. The result is the first systematic study of an issue that has profound implications for democracy both with and beyond India’s borders.

Table of Contents

Part I

  1. Lawmakers and Lawbreakers: The Puzzle of Indian Democracy

    What does the marketplace for criminal politicians look like and what supply and demand forces make it tick?
  2. The Rise of the Rents Raj: India’s Corruption Ecosystem

    How have India’s politics, economy, and society been transformed since India’s independence? And how can we understand the country’s puzzling governance deficit?

Part II

  1. Criminal Enterprise: Why Criminals Join Politics

    How has the relationship between crime and politics changed as democracy has evolved? What incentives do individuals with serious criminal reputations have to take part in the electoral sphere?
  2. The Costs of Democracy: How Money Fuels Muscle

    Individuals linked to wrongdoing may have their own incentives to join politics. But why do political parties select candidates with serious criminal records?
  3. Doing Good by Doing Bad: The Demand for Criminality

    Does voter ignorance explain why voters back politicians linked to crime? Or might voters have rational reasons for lending their support?
  4. The Salience of Social Divisions: How Context Shapes Criminality

    How can social divisions sharpen the appeal of criminal politicians? And how do these cleavages vary across India’s vast, diverse democracy?

Part III

  1. Crime without Punishment: From Deep Roots to Proximate Causes

    What are the policy levers reformers can wield in order to limit, if not eliminate, the entrenched position of tainted politicians?
  2. An Entrenched Marketplace: Rethinking Democratic Accountability

    What are the implications of the presence of criminal politicians for democracy and accountability? What, if anything, can the Indian experience tell us about the challenges facing other developing democracies?

About the Author

Milan Vaishnav is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. He was previously a fellow at the Center for Global Development and has taught at Columbia, George Washington, and Georgetown Universities.

“The most systematic analysis of corruption and criminalization in the world’s largest democracy. Harking back to the historical roots of this phenomenon, Vaishnav shows that it is growing because of societal, political, and economic factors, and that legislation passed to contain these factors has hardly made any difference. This remarkable book will change readers’ views of democracy in India.”
—Christophe Jaffrelot, Senior Research Fellow, CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS

“This is the first book-length treatment of a peculiar paradox of Indian politics: namely, the coexistence of criminality and democratic vigor. Milan Vaishnav's analysis of this paradox is highly original and hugely fascinating, and will become a standard text on criminality, corruption, and democracy.”
—Ashutosh Varshney, Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences, Brown University

“Why do so many people with criminal charges contest Indian elections, why do they win so often, and what does this tell us about parties and voters in the world’s largest democracy? Milan Vaishnav’s excellent book uses rich fieldwork and impressive quantitative analysis to provide compelling and surprising answers.”
—Steven Wilkinson, Nilekani Professor of India and South Asian Studies, Yale University

“While democracy is fast taking root in most parts of the world, criminality and corruption are getting increasingly entrenched. Ironically, voters seem quite comfortable with this state of affairs. This strange coexistence of free and fair elections with criminality and money power is beautifully analyzed in this important new book on electoral politics.”
—S.Y. Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner of India

More Reviews

Why People Elect Crooks
—Raymond Zhong, Wall Street Journal

Grant EC powers to punish candidates for false disclosures: Book
India Times

An unholy nexus
—Nidhi Gupta, Hindu

Mapping the crime-politics nexus in India
—Srinath Raghavan, LiveMint

When Crime Pays by Milan Vaishnav — crooked paths to power
—James Crabtree, Financial Times

Lawbreakers, Lawmakers
—Arun Kumar, Indian Express

Governance failure fuels muscle in politics: Milan Vaishnav
—Aditi Phadnis, Business Standard

The demand and supply of ‘Dabangg’ leaders in India
—Pramit Bhattacharya, Livemint

Should elections be such a spending spree?
—Divya Guha, Bangalore Mirror

Freedom with defects: The darker side of Indian democracy
—Ramachandra Guha, Telegraph

Milan Vaishnav: Power and Pelf
—Siddharth Singh, Open Magazine

Sasikala saga shows crime-politics nexus has no regional bias: Milan Vaishnav
—Nidheesh M.K., LiveMint

Why Do Indians Vote for ‘Criminal’ Politicians?
—Soutik Biswas, BBC

‘Crime pays off electorally’
—Varghese K. George, Hindu

Vertical integration in India’s crime-politics nexus
—David Keohane, Financial Times

Why many Indian politicians have a criminal record
Economist

    • Event

    When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics

    • March 01, 2017 - Washington, DC

    Political scientist and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Milan Vaishnav will give a lecture on his new book, When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics. Sanford Ungar, former director of Voice of America and former host of “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio, will serve as a discussant and moderator.

    • Event

    Book release : “When Crime Pays : Money & Muscle in Indian Politics”

    • February 19, 2017 - Pune

    The Pune International Centre hosted Milan Vaishnav to discuss his new book, When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics

    • Event

    Why Money Speaks at the Ballot

    • February 15, 2017 - Mumbai

    Drawing on fieldwork from the campaign trail, large surveys, and unprecedented data on politicians’ criminal records, Milan Vaishnav will discuss his findings on the inner-workings of the India democracy’s underbelly. Joining him in the discussion will be Niranjan Rajadhyaksha, Executive Editor, Mint.

    • Event

    Book Launch: When Crime Pays

    • February 08, 2017 - NEW DELHI

    Milan Vaishnav will discuss his new book, When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics, with Yogendra Yadav. Anubha Bhonsle will moderate the discussion.

    • Event

    Book Launch: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics

    • February 02, 2017 - WASHINGTON, DC

    In a groundbreaking book, When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics, Milan Vaishnav takes readers deep into the marketplace for criminal politicians.

  • Electoral Bonds A Disaster For Public Transparency: Milan Vaishnav

    • February 22, 2017
    • BloombergQuint

    “Public, civil society or the media will not be able to follow a single rupee in this money trail. I think it’s a disaster when it comes to public transparency,” said Vaishnav in a conversation with BloombergQuint.

  • The NDTV Dialogues: Money And Muscle In Indian Politics

    • February 12, 2017
    • NDTV Dialogues

    A look at the toxic cocktail of money and muscle in the Indian polity: how it impacts governance and whether it works as a social security net at times when the government fails to provide welfare.

  • Paisa, Power and Politics

    • February 11, 2017
    • CNN-News18

    It’s a common refrain, criminals, moneybags or men and women with dubious records have come to dominate India’s political landscape. In his new book, When Crime Pays, author Milan Vaishnav tries to unlayer just why do voters choose to elect such candidates? What allows this perplexing nexus of crime and money to co-exist with free and fair elections? Milan Vaishnav speaks to CNN-News18’s Executive Editor, Anubha Bhonsle, about the book and the government’s effort to clean up political financing.

  • The Big Fight: Who Funds Our Netas?

    • February 11, 2017
    • NDTV Big Fight

    Demonetisation was aimed at curbing black money - a substantial portion of which is used for political funding. Following on those steps, the government has reduced the limit for cash donations to political parties from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 2,000 and issued electoral bonds which hope to ensure any donation above the threshold has to be paid in cheque or through digital means. Is it enough to to clean the electoral funding? Or is more transparency required to ensure black money is not routed through political parties?