Indian PM Modi says criminal lawmakers should 'go to jail'

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's new Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said there should be no space in Parliament for criminals, where a record number of elected representatives face charges.

Mr Modi, who pledged a clean and efficient government to help revive the slowing economy, said lawmakers who have criminal backgrounds should go to jail and "free both houses of this disgrace".

"There is always this comprehensive discussion that only those who have criminal backgrounds go to parliament. This is the image people have," Mr Modi told the Upper House of Parliament. "It is our responsibility to free both our houses of this disgrace."

Mr Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which thrashed the left-leaning Congress party in marathon polls in April and May, made reviving the economy the main plank of its campaign as well as promising to clean up the government.

In Parliament, Mr Modi suggested that India's top court could analyse and expedite criminal cases of lawmakers within a year to "get the real picture".

"Those who will be found guilty will go to jail and those cleared of blame will stand untainted in front of the world," Mr Modi said as lawmakers thumped their desks in agreement.

Research by the Association for Democratic Reforms shows 186 members of the elected Lower House of Parliament (34 per cent) are facing criminal charges, compared with 158 members in the previous legislature.

The association, an advocate for clean government, says 21 per cent of members face serious criminal charges - a label used to denote major crimes including rape and murder.

New lawmakers from Mr Modi's BJP are among those facing criminal charges including murder, kidnapping, robbery and inciting communal disharmony.

Four of nine MPs charged with murder are from the BJP, and so are 10 of 17 parliamentarians charged with attempted murder.

India has a long history of electing lawmakers with criminal cases against them, but in the recent elections voters turned against the Congress that was embroiled in a string of corruption scandals during its decade in power, in favour of Mr Modi.

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