By Poonam I Kaushish
Heard this week’s flavour amidst our ongoing noisy nautanki of democracy: rajniti is the best dhanda and our netagan’s greatest asset is his lie-ability! More incredible is the whopping monies being spent on this dazzling razzmatazz. Big deal if the election expenditure in the world’s costliest is set to rise 40% to Rs 49,000 crores according to the Centre for Media Studies. More than what US President Trump spent for his White House bid.
From muscle power to money power, today cash is king! Whereby when Parties choose a candidate on the basis of ‘winnability’ it reads money power and the spending capacity of the contestant. “It is like an entrance fee and acts as a cementing force even though a voter’s choice is not based on it”, said a political aspirant. “Remember the sting on BSP’s Mayawti accusing her of ‘selling’ tickets.” Notwithstanding, it skews the level playing field, denies an equal voice for some voters and an equal chance for some candidates along-with mocking the concept of ‘free and fair’ elections.
Undoubtedly, the number of crorepatis in Parliament and State legislatures indicates that netas and Parties put their faith in aamir candidates who would be able to win elections. Resulting in a majority (83%) of those contesting polls being crorepatis, primarily as everything from getting a Party ticket to contesting, bribing voters, gift inducements, advertising, volunteers, garnering crowds, cavalcades of cars and getting elected costs money and re-elected even more money.
Consequently, the Election Commission has already totted up over Rs 1,618.78 crores — Rs 399.50 crores cash, Rs 162.89 crores worth liquor, drugs and narcotics Rs 708.54 crores, gold and other ‘goodies’ Rs 347.83 crores et al. In fact over Rs 67 crores is the daily money haul. It comes as no surprise that Rs 137 crores cash was seized last week in Tamil Nadu, another Rs 1.8 crores from Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister’s convoy.
Another study by the Centre for Media Studies shows the influence of money power during elections. The three most notorious states are Andhra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The report shows over 47% voters accepted money to vote in the Karnataka Assembly polls last year and estimates that the upcoming Andhra polls will be the most expensive State Assembly election with over Rs 1,000 crores being spent. Overall, Gujarat Rs 543.84 crores, Tamil Nadu Rs 514.57 crores, Andhra Rs 216.34 crores, Punjab Rs 179 crores and UP Rs 162 crores saw the largest total value of goods seized.
One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry when 100 people sat on a dharna in Telengana because a TRS leader failed to give them the promised money for attending a public meeting! More scandalous is that over 37% voters admitted receiving money for votes. In a recent TV sting 18 legislators confessed to giving monetary inducements. Alongside freebies from smart phones to wifi, bicycles to pressure cookers, gold sets and chains etc whereby today elections are synonymous with money.
Though the Election Commission has prescribed Rs 70 lakhs per Lok Sabha candidate and Rs 28 lakhs for an Assembly aspirant, this is miniscule and represent 1/70 of the cost to fight an election. Only a fortnight back the EC countermanded poll in Vellore over abuse of money power when over 12 crores was seized from a cement godown there.
In 2017 it was alleged that T T V Dinakaran, V K Sasikala’s nephew, who later won the late Jayalalithaa’s seat with a thumping majority and formed his own Party, had offered huge bribes to EC officials to win rights to the AIADMK’s two-leaf symbol.
“It seems people are placing more faith on money than policies, ideology, principles and programmes. What is worrisome is that it is becoming a menace and assuming alarming proportions of a national malady,” asserted a former Election Commissioner.
Over the years, several Government reports including the EC, Administrative Reforms Commission and Law Commission have pondered on how to purge elections of dirty money and reduce the use of illegitimate and unnecessary funding. All have abysmally failed as there is a persisting lack of transparency in the funding of Parties and their official submissions to the EC and the Income Tax Department are gross under-reporting is no secret.
Partly as the EC rules border on being outlandish. ‘Spending on election campaign by any person without the written authority of the candidate carries a fine up to Rs 500…Any person who fails to maintain election accounts as required by law shall be punished with fine up to Rs 500. Another gem: ‘No donations above Rs 2,000 in cash, anonymous limit remains at Rs 20,000’. Sic.
Besides, with our netas themselves designing rules they are supposed to obey, regulation continues to include loopholes, enforcement agencies are not sufficiently empowered and Parties do not account for their finance and the system of ensuring compliance is weak. Since last week the EC has been trumpeting Parties advertise the criminal antecedents of their candidates but it is met with stony silence.
Any wonder the BJP received 93% of all donations above Rs 20,000 rupees in 2017-18 of which 80% or Rs 533 crores is unaccounted while Congress got just Rs 267 million, states the Association for Democratic Reforms. Of this 53% was from unknown sources for the BJP and Congress along-with three other national Parties. Add to this corporates and individuals contributed 12 times more to the BJP than to Congress and five other national Parties combined.
In a milieu where money talks, the quest for power begins with a lie. The minute a winning MP or MLA, having spent a fortune, declares in his election affidavit that he has not exceeded the Rs 70 or 28 lakhs limit one is left incredulous. And then starts the web of deceit resulting in a vicious cycle. The sheer sums inevitably, encourage those who win to seek reward, either to repay debts and favours or to build a war-chest for the next campaign.
Alas, the rules governing the system are such that, even after winning election, legislators have little power in policy making — which is controlled by a small set of Party elites or coterie. Succinctly, our leaders have little incentive to invest in actually becoming good jan sevaks hence they view their election as an economic investment in the future. Thereby, adding to a compromised democratic system in which the candidates for whom we vote need not represent our interests.
Indeed Ambedkar’s prophecy in 1943 wherein he criticised Gandhi and Nehru for taking the aid of “‘big business and money magnates”, seems to bite today as money is taking the field as an organised player. Bluntly, politics is all about money, honey. Whereby, buying-selling of votes is on auto-mode happening all the time.
As campaign politics continues and the cost of democracy skyrockets the time has come to stop banking on a candidate’s self-proclaimed honesty and morality. Let the people, the ultimate repository of sovereignty in democracy, squeeze the last drop of their “safedi ka chamatkar” to rid the polity of its increasing filth and dirt. Else resign ourselves to the harsh reality that candy might be dandy, liquor could be quicker but cash is an all time fixer! Money hai to power hai! —— INFA