Questions must be asked when the most powerful, dignitary, responsible, high ground position of an entire nation of 1.2 billion people is won with money and muscle. An election is the most heated phenomena in India starting from all mighty General Elections to the smallest level i.e Panchayat Elections. Indian citizens always witness elections at different levels every year. And with elections, they witness violence, public display of money, chaos, non-performing government institutions, and much more.
In today’s piece of Elections In India: The Tale of Two Things, we will further discuss these two things i.e MUSCLE and MONEY
Elections In India: Money Factor
For a few decades after Independence, Indians voted based on who did what during the struggle for Independence. A phase where most worked and fought selflessly for an independent India. True, there were some who fought for the prospect of political or social power that they saw in near future but the overall trend was for welfare. Soon like every other trend this too started its downhill trek. And then came to a phase when politics was done and won based on connections, influence, caste/religion appeasement, or dynasty tag.
This was the same phase when politicians grew more and more hungry for money. They used their power for corruption, scams, commissions, and unethical lobbying for corporates. MPs and MLAs grew the dominant force in their constituencies and every other thing required their say. They started becoming quasi judiciary in their areas and since then this trend kept growing to such an extent that police will not touch you if you are related to that particular MP/MLA.
It’s true that this is not everywhere and every scenario but a common man’s truth prevails. In the 2014 General Elections, the official figure showed only 8,000 cr of expenditure by parties but according to a Centre for Media Studies Report, the figure was approx 35,000cr. An unaccounted gap for a whopping 27,000cr. The joke is when this accounted figure rose to 40% by 2019 General Elections.
Now, it’s not that everything is bad. EC reduced the cash donations cap from 20,000 to 2,000. And Courts found foreign companies like Vedanta donating 88 million to Congress and BJP illegal (1). But how come this be allowed. Soon came electoral bonds and Financial Bill. Now when it comes to money, everyone’s the same. Nobody showed opposition to it. So, soon enough foreign funding was legal with no scrutiny plus no declaration needed.
NGOs, you and I are questioned daily by the highest investigative offices on foreign funding based on various reasons but our nation’s lawmakers have a free hand. Now, don’t get me wrong, concerning foreign funding must be investigated to safeguard India but same or even stricter scrutiny towards political; parties on the same issue must be the uttermost priority too.
In the name of transparency came the most unaccounted thing ever that we call Electoral Bonds. Something that after years has no clear verdict by SC. 95% pf the amount goes to BJP followed by Congress and others like DMK, NCP, TMC etc (2)
Now some of these regional parties don’t even need to buy electoral bonds and some fear that SBI may know about the donor which further opens him/her for a central attack for supporting the opposition. So, they use the old school methods. In the 2019 General Elections, EC was seizing an average of 10cr EVERYDAY!! By end, EC seized around 34,56,22,00,000cr that includes booze, cash, drugs, gold etc. (3)
If you by chance think that’s only in General Elections then hear me out. Just a few months back we had elections in 4 states and 1 UT, right? EC made its biggest Assembly Elections seize of 1,000cr. In 2016, the same states reported an accumulated seizure of 225.77cr. It’s almost a 5 times jump. (4)
The Intention Behind the Money Game
Now let’s do some more maths. The law permits spending just 70 lacs but every one of us and even authorities knows that 70lacs is mere peanuts during General Elections. Some observers, officials and studies suggest that an average of 50-60cr is spent per constituency. The actual figure or even an approximate estimation will be never know but as I said earlier the sheer amount of seizures reflect what goes on during Elections.
How is this money spent? I’ll provide some insights. On average a big roadshow/rally costs 1cr, The thousands of booths in a constituency needs at least 5-6 times the number of workers. Now some are loyal supporters and some are brought along. Let’s assume very optimistically that 90% of these are loyalists, even then they would need at least 200-400rs per day for fuel, food, water etc. After all simple logic says that a salaried employee, businessman etc won’t grind 14-16hrs per day to support a political party. It’s usually unemployed youth, laborers, daily wage workers and others who don’t have a decent job. (5)
Therefore, in one constituency per day expense on workers can be around 10-20lacs per day. Gopinath Munde admitted to spending 8cr back in 2009. In the 2019 General Elections, a mind-blowing 5,40,00,000cr was spent in just 15 days on air travel by eminent candidates.
Political Parties field richer candidates in non-strategic areas intentionally so that money is fuelled into the overall campaign. Also, you have a 26% more chance of winning if you are a crorepati. Some will feel just 26%? No big deal, right? Trust me, in politicss as big as India’s, somebody having a 26% more advantage is serious!
In 2004, 30% of Lok Sabha members were crorepatis, a decade later the number became 82%. On average an MP’s assets grow by 142%. This number goes as high as 2,000%. How wonderful would it be if magically if every common man with just 2 lacs of assets expands to maybe 10cr within a few years, no?
Election money is like an investment. Pure business deal. Leave corporates and foreign sources, everyone knows and should believe that they fund sheer volume to have a say in policies, loan wavier, legal leniency, contracts etc. Local businesses fund too. They fund their local candidate for the same exact reasons and are served well. Some are forced to fund because otherwise his/her competitor will gain dominance due to his/her political friends or maybe he/she fears legal hindrances.
Also Read: State Legislatures: A Doomsday Clock
Who has the bigger biceps?
Next in Elections In India comes muscle power. Every single election sees violence months before it is declared and months after results are declared. The latest example was the 2021 Bengal Elections, political killings, crude bomb attacks, stone pelting, Central forces, Naga checking and post-poll violence gripped the state for almost 4-5 good months. And this story is no different all over India.
Studies again show that the more money a candidate possesses, the more criminal charges he/she has. Also, there’s no need for proof when we say that many political leaders have a group of people who can threaten, harm, or even kill on command. Plus the local crime nexus at times keep a close touch with leaders for smooth functioning. According to a survey of 21,000 candidates, there is a 20 times more chance of winning if facing a serious criminal charge.
Association of Democratic Reforms says, 43% of Lok Sabha winners have criminal charges while 29% have serious criminal charges (6). And every year these stats grow by 5-10%. It’s almost as if the criminal records and millions have become shadow eligibility criteria.
That’s Elections In India for you!
- Vedanta donations to political parties ruled illegal by Delhi High Court
- Poll Expenditure, The 2019 Elections
- Seizure worth Rs 34,56,22,00,000 during 2019 LS polls: How drugs, cash, gold & booze kept netas busy
- Assembly Elections 2021 | Cash, other freebies seizures top ₹1,000 crore
- Financing Indian elections: Black all the way
- Insights into Editorial: Crime and politics: on political candidates with criminal records