A Review of When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics

By Allen S Mattam

Business Administration

Reviewed October, 13 2017


Being an Indian and growing up around the Indian political system it seems like just another day when political events arise in the country. But little did I know how massive and unique the Indian political system is. In Milan Vaishnav’s book, When Crime Pays, it states that “India’s 2014  election was the largest democratic exercise ever undertaken. On nine separate polling days staggered over six weeks, 554 million voters queued up at more than 900,000 polling stations to cast their ballots in favor of one of 8,251 candidates representing 464 political parties.” These statistics blew me away. Living in India for so many years, you know that politics are significant in India, but these statistics put it all into perspective.

The book mainly looks into the 2014 general elections and how it has been marked as a significant turning point in Indian politics. We can see from this information that while these elections were “free and fair democratic elections,”  Vaishnav shows us that India’s  political system is not.

According to Vaishnav, one-third of the newly elected parliament (composed of MP’s -Member of parliament) have ongoing criminal prosecutions. These facts raise some uncomfortable questions about how free and fair democratic elections and widespread illegality can comfortably coexist. India is not the only country that faces this, but many countries like Pakistan, the Philippines, and others, are confronted with similar problems. As in all elections, citizens are the ones who elect their representatives. Many voters vote for politicians because of, rather than in spite of, their criminal reputations. Voting for criminals creates a vicious cycle of crime in politics.  In short, the Indian political system has to change from the foundation. However, Vaishnav explains that the reason behind this never ending cycle is corruption. People of the working class see that their everyday life is disrupted due the unreliable system of India. For that reason, people prefer to elect corrupt politicians because their predictability creates a smoothly functioning system in everyday life. People want consistency, and that is what these political criminals create. However, the citizens don’t realize that the country should work towards long term goals as well.

Laying out all the statistics and scenarios in the Indian political system, Vaishnav provides his unique insight into what could be done in certain situations but gives us the freedom to decide how the Indian political system could progress.  In my opinion, the short term mindset of both the citizens and the political leaders have to change for India to progress as a nation. It’s true that everyday life is important, but it takes time to create a more sustainable and reliable “system.” Even though it might seem like a tradeoff, I feel it’s the only way-or the right way- that India can have strong socio-economic freedom and growth. The book definitely got me thinking about the fundamental problems of the Indian political system and more importantly the behavioral outcome of the voters. If someone is trying to understand the Indian political system, this is the book I would recommend because it goes through real situations that have actually occurred instead of theories.