Amjed Jaaved |
Some 814 million voters speaking 1,652 languages will vote in 900,000 voting centres across India over 35 days in the upcoming national election. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies are in power in 22 of India’s 29 states. The Congress is now in power in only two big states, Karnataka and Punjab. India’s April 2019 elections will cost parties a flabbergasting Rs30,000 crore or $5 billion.
That parallels cost of a US Presidential election. The difference is that most of the money spent in India will be in the form of untraceable cash. Much of it will have been brought back into the country from tax havens, such as Switzerland, Mauritius, Dubai and Caribbean Islands where industrialists and politicians stash their illicit fortunes. India, the world’s largest democracy, stands divided into two worlds, the affluent and the poor.
India’s April 2019 elections will cost parties a flabbergasting Rs30,000 crore or $5 billion.
Role of Money in Election
There is a relationship of direct proportionality between electoral win and wealth. Money plays an important part in determining poor voter’s electoral choice. Narendra Modi spent $115 million to win the Indian election in 2014. In all, the BJP spent Rs714.28 crore ($115 million) on the 2014 general election campaign.
Congress spent Rs200 crore ($32 million) less than the BJP’s expenditure during the 2014 polls. The BJP spent over one-third of all the money on one item: media advertising. The biggest individual recipients of this money were two firms, Madison World and chartered aviation provider, Saarthi Airways. Saarthi Airways is promoted by Delhi-based Gulab Singh Tanwar, reportedly a close friend of former BJP’s president and current home minister, Rajnath Singh.
The party spent Rs77.83 crore ($12.57 million) on chartering aircrafts for its key campaigners, of which Rs60 crore ($9.7 million) was paid to Saarthi Airways alone. Political parties mainly nominate those candidates who can raise money for contesting elections.
Elections in India are Expensive
Candidates in the 2014 election spent a total of $5bn (US election in 2012 cost around $6bn). The longer a party stays out of power, the fewer the opportunities to raise money from a variety of sources including large donors, small donors, and organisational donations. The BJP is the richest party followed by Congress.
India, the world’s largest democracy, stands divided into two worlds, the affluent and the poor.
The Congress has ruled the country for 49 of its 71 years as an independent nation. It appealed for the first time in its 133-year history for funds, perhaps as a catchy slogan. It had an income of $33m (£24.7m) in 2017! Ruling BJP is the richest with an income of $151.5million. Congress’s income in 2017 decreased by $5.3m. The BJP’s income has doubled from what it earned in 2016.
Lack of Transparency
Although political parties are required to declare their income, their finances are far from transparent. The penalties imposed by election commission are slaps on the wrist.
Preposterous Expenditure Ceiling
Individual candidates can spend only Rs70 lakh ($120,000) on his campaigns. This amount is too little to meet even poster printing costs in important contests. Key candidates spend between Rs75-300 crore ($12-50 million). Lesser stars spend between Rs15-50 crore ($2.5-8.25 million) and marginal candidates between Rs1-10 crore ($600,000-1.8 million).
Mammoth rallies where half a million people cheer candidates cost upwards of Rs3 crore ($500,000). Every major party holds at least one major rally or counter-rallies a day. Add to it the cost of sending thousands of workers out in cars, trains, planes, rickshaws, bicycles, bullock carts, tractors, camels, horses, and boats to woo voters with speeches, street plays, and songs.
Financial Contributions to Parties, Candidates
Corporate contributions, up to five per cent of a company’s net profits to political parties are legal. In reality, huge funds are collected from individuals and companies by extortion or as a consideration for past or future favours. Political corruption has become integral to India’s governance process. The disclosure norms are very feeble and un-enforced.
Being the richest party, the BJP is well placed to form at least a cozy coalition. India’s cosmetic progress is most visible in the use of cars, aviation, mobile telephony, cable television, outsourcing, and automobiles. Such progress is meaningless when less than five per cent of Indians can fly, or own a car. Electoral abuses caricature shiny face of India’s democracy.
“Elections (in India) are being increasingly seen by people as devious means, employed by the rulers to periodically renew their license to rule, more often to misrule,” writes SG Sardesai in “India’s democracy accepts right of cheats and bullies to rule”. Regrettably, at all levels of government, the upper castes are holding the decision-making positions.
Mammoth rallies where half a million people cheer candidates cost upwards of Rs3 crore ($500,000). Every major party holds at least one major rally or counter-rallies a day.
Persecution of religious minorities and the so-called untouchables (who prefer to call themselves dalits) is endemic to the social and cultural systems that circumscribe the Indian polity. A four-year-old girl, named Surjo, was boiled in a tub and then beheaded to please gods as part of a religious sacrifice.
The police said, “In a country where sons are sold for paisa 25 and women are thrown into the fire to please sati, goddess of chastity, such events cannot be foreseen or forestalled”. The solution lies in state funding of elections. Reforms suggested in Tarkunde Committee, Indrajit Gupta Committee, and Dinesh Goswami Committee and N. S. Gehlot could not be implemented.
Hindutva supporters want to convert India into a centralised state for the brahmans only. The rise of the BJP from a marginal Hindu nationalist party of the 1980s to the majority party in parliament in 1999 vindicates ascendancy of Hindutva trend. Obviously, India is the largest democracy in form but not in substance.
Mr Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. He is author of seven e-books. Mr Jaaved has served Pakistan government for 39 years. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.