This was supposed to be the year that India moved on. The emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party and several crucial Supreme Court decisions seemed to herald a new political culture — endangering the political careers of not just the corrupt, but also the criminal politician. A quick glance at the initial candidate lists put out by the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party makes it clear, however, that little has changed.

A preliminary candidate report by the Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch found that 30 per cent of 188 candidates set to contest from the big two parties had criminal cases pending against them.

This is the same as the number of sitting Lok Sabha MPs with criminal cases against them — 162 out of the 543, or 30 per cent — suggesting that neither of the two national parties has changed its approach when it comes to criminals in politics.

Rahul Gandhi might have torn up an ordinance passed by his own cabinet that aimed to make it easier for convicts to hold on to their Parliamentary seats, but the Congress’ first list of 194 candidates features at least 33 with criminal cases, ten of them with serious charges. Despite senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley’s laments about the criminalisation of politics, 37 per cent of his party’s 67 candidates that ADR-NEW analysed were found to be facing criminal charges.

These aren’t all obscure candidates facing minor allegations either. Take Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the sitting Congress MP from Bahrampur in West Bengal, who has been renominated to the seat. A charge sheet filed against Chowdhury last year accused him of conspiring to murder a Trinamool Congress activist, Kamal Sheikh, in 2011. Chowdhury — one of four Congress candidates accused either of murder or attempted murder — is the Union Minister of State for Railways.

Then there is the BJP’s Gopinath Munde. The MP from Beed in Maharashtra is not just accused of any ordinary kidnapping; he has been charged with abducting a Congress MLA from the Maharashtra Assembly just as the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance was trying to dislodge the state government through a no-confidence motion in 2002. Four candidates from the BJP and the Congress are even facing charges of electoral violations, including illegal payments and undue influence over an election.

ADR-NEW’s analysis found that 12 of the Shiv Sena’s 14 Lok Sabha candidates announced so far have been named accused in criminal cases. In fact, seven of these candidates have been charged with serious crimes.

Candidates often claim that they should not be barred from contesting elections based on allegations, only convictions, because politically motivated police cases would make it easy for opponents to prevent them from contesting. This argument may no longer hold water following the Supreme Court’s directive that trials against MPs and MLAs must be completed within a year of the framing of charges. While we are yet to see how this will work in reality, further research by ADR-NEW revealed that the average criminal case against MPs (until 2009) had been pending for at least seven years.

ADR-NEW’s preliminary analysis is based on election affidavits filed in previous elections, meaning the exact number of criminal politicians contesting this year could be even higher than their findings.