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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Candidates face criminal charges
By Nagendar Sharma
BBC Correspondent in Maharashtra

Almost half of the candidates of the two main opposition parties contesting elections in India's western Maharashtra face criminal charges, a report says.

George Fernandes and Venkaiah Naidu
BJP President Venkaiah Naidu (right) says the report is inaccurate
The Maharashtra Election Watch, a citizens' group, says 136 of the 274 candidates fielded by the Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party have criminal cases filed against them.

The report says the ruling Congress party-led alliance in the state had also fielded candidates facing criminal trails.

Indian law does not allow those awaiting trial to vote but there is no bar on people fighting elections if not yet convicted.

The Election Commission has ordered all candidates to clearly state in an affidavit the number of cases pending against them.

The elections in Maharashtra on 13 October are the first major polls after the Congress party unseated the Hindu nationalist BJP-led alliance in the general elections earlier this year.

The Maharashtra Election Watch is an umbrella organisation of NGOs and eminent citizens.

Its report shows that of the 163 candidates fielded by the right wing Hindu Shiv Sena party, 91 have criminal cases filed against them.

'Voters right'

Also, 45 of the 111 candidates of the BJP have similar cases against them, the report said.

Voters have a right to know about those who would rule them for five years
Justice C. Dharmadhikarn, Maharashtra Election Watch

The ruling Congress and Nationalist Congress parties have also given tickets to people facing criminal charges, the report found.

Of the 124 candidates of the Nationalist Congress party, 31 have cases against them.

Thirty of a total of 157 Congress candidates are also facing criminal charges.

These figures are based on the information obtained from affidavits filed by candidates to India's Election Commission.

"We have taken into account only those candidates against whom charge sheets have been filed in the courts," Justice C. Dharmadhikari, member of the group told the BBC.

"Voters have a right to know about those who would rule them for five years".

The BJP has said that the report is inaccurate.

"We oppose criminalisation of politics, but when public representatives fight for people's rights and cases are registered, they cannot be put in this category," party president Venkaiah Naidu said.

Both the BJP and Shiv Sena find themselves in an awkward position following this report.

As the main opposition parties at the centre, they have demanded the resignation of "tainted" ministers facing criminal charges in the ruling Congress party-led federal government.

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