16 May 2019

Money power plays a decisive role in Indian elections. The 2019 general elections will cost about 60,000 to 65,000 crore rupees, as per the estimate of the Centre for Media Studies of Delhi. That means roughly 120 crore rupees will be spent on an average per Lok Sabha seat! This will be nearly 40 percent more than the last general election.

The role of money power has been growing by leaps and bounds election after election. In every election, the odds are increasing against people’s candidates, who have been fighting for the rights of jhuggi dwellers, workers, farmers, women, adivasis, etc. The so-called ‘Loktantra’ is actually a ‘Dhantantra’. Candidates who want to take the voice of people to Lok Sabha, are facing an uphill task of challenging the money power of the parties funded by big business houses and multinational corporations during elections.

The 2019 elections has seen a dramatic increase in the use of social media for campaigning, particularly by the BJP and Congress. It is reported that the expenditure on social media alone will be Rs 5,000 crore as against only Rs 250 crore in 2014. Special cells have been formed by both the parties to spread their propaganda, lies, counter-lies, to carry out smear campaigns, etc. through the social media.  Many more thousands of crores are being spent by BJP and Congress on advertising on TV and in newspapers in this election.

The biggest national parties declared a combined income of just 1300 crore rupees for the year April 2017 to March 2018. This is only a small fraction of the overall estimated expenditure, hardly 2%! Where does the bulk of election expenditure come from?

Various committees set up to recommend electoral reforms have raised a lot of hue and cry about the dominance of black money in funding elections. They have painstakingly tried to prove was that it was money generated illegally by unscrupulous businessmen, smugglers, drug peddlers and gangsters that accounts for the bulk of election expenditures. A study of election expenditures of 2577 politicians in Bihar, UP and Jharkhand pointed out that 44% of expenditure were not accounted for and termed it as black money.

Portraying black money as the monster behind all problems, the NDA government introduced demonetisation at terrible cost to small producers, workers, and peasants. If black money had been curbed then how does one account for the fact that 40% more money will be spent in this elections compared to the 2014 elections?
Even the seizures of money made by the vigilance squad of the Election Commission are meant to hide the real nature of electoral funding. Between 26th March and 15th April 2019, seizures have amounted to Rs 683 crore of cash, Rs 213 crore of liquor, Rs 1144 crore of drugs. The value of these seizures is of course only a tip of the iceberg of money used in this election. However, the Election Commission found the problem of the extensive use of cash in only one constituency of the country at Vellore in Tamil Nadu where it cancelled the election on recovery of a huge amount of cash!

According to the report of the Association for Democratic Reforms, the corporate sector donated Rs 422 crore to national parties between 2017 and 2018. Their donations made up nearly 90 percent of the total donations received by these parties. But compared to the total estimated cost of the current elections, corporate donations through electoral bonds is just a trickle.

The bulk of election expenditure is borne by big corporate houses and multinational companies. In order to make sure that the party of their choice is elected to power, they fund the election campaigns of parties of the status quo in various ways. The entire monopoly-owned media, both print and TV, give prime space only to these parties and ignore all other people’s candidates. Only spokespersons of parties of the status quo are allowed to take part in TV talk shows. Corporate houses fund rallies, volunteer expenses, posters, banners, helicopter rides, and various other expenses. Their consultants and psephologists advise these parties on how to brainwash the voters to vote for the parties who will serve them well.

The Election Commission places a cap on how much individual candidates can spend, which is between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 70 lakh for a Lok Sabha candidate, depending on the constituency they are representing. The limit on the individual expenditure by candidates is of no consequence since there is no cap on the expenditure by a party or other private entities. This deliberate anomaly is fully used by all the parties supported by corporate houses.

All the reforms announced to curb the domination of money power in elections such as putting a cap on individual electoral expenditure of candidates, electoral bonds, disclosure of personal assets of candidates, measures to curb black money and others do not address the key issue that corporate houses fund elections in order to ensure that a party which serves their interests gets elected to power.
The domination of money power in elections and the domination of the political and electoral process by parties of the status quo expose the claims of the ruling class that the current elections are the biggest democratic exercise the world has ever seen.

In the current elections, several people’s organisations have contested the domination of money power on the ground. They have exposed the flow of corporate money and attempts to bribe the voters. They have represented to the Election Commission that those who violate the electoral code on spending should be disqualified. It is as a result of strong voices being raised again money power that elections in Vellore was countermanded.

Lok Raj Sangathan has consistently demanded that only a people-centred political and electoral process can put an end to the domination of money power and the parties of the ruling establishment. This means that candidates in a particular constituency should be selected and elected by the people belonging to the constituency, that elected representatives should be recalled by voters in a constituency if they fail to deliver, that people should have the right to initiate legislation and finally the funding of the electoral process should be done by the state and not by any other individual or agency. Only a thorough overhaul of the political and electoral process can remove the scourge of the domination of money power in elections.

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