Only the rich can fight polls in India as the cost of electioneering has gone up by many times
Only the rich can fight polls in India as the cost of electioneering has gone up by many times. Gone are the days when professionals or social workers with limited means could get elected to state assemblies or Lok Sabha. Now at the time of ticket distribution parties check if the candidate has the resources of his own or has supporters who would provide funds for his campaign. Many get the ticket because they are in a position to finance their own campaign as well as give a donation to the party.
Scrutiny of members of the Lok Sabha as well as members of the state assemblies will show that majority of members have declared assets of several crores. Gone are the days when members traveled by bus now the majority have cars, and that too swanky ones. There are few volunteers and the majority of campaigners are hired. Election offices have become war rooms staffed with professionals who decide campaign plans.
Surveys are conducted, data collected before the campaign starts and candidates selected. The money spent in advance is considered a good investment and a political party that prepares in advance does well, Campaign cost has also gone up. There are few togas or rickshaws with the majority of campaigners moving in cars or motorcycles. As for central leaders and top state leaders, helicopters have to be hired. Using buses to fetch crowds for political rallies is common. The provision also has to be made for food for those who come to attend these rallies.
Expenses run into crores. As a result, limits fixed by Election Commission on expenses have become a joke as they do not cover even a single day expense on polling day. Candidates manipulate accounts by showing them as expenses made by the political party backing them as there is no limit on expenses by the political party. One has to also note elections in India are not held every five years but every year. One state or the other holds elections every year.
Gone are the days when the Prime Minister or other top leaders did not participate in the majority of elections for the state assemblies. The situation has changed to the extent that many central ministers spend more time looking after electioneering instead of attending to work allotted to them. The ruling party in India collects the maximum amount of money for electioneering as such has no intention to check the same to provide a level playing field.
Election rules flouted
The Election Commission is a mute spectator while laws relating to expenditure on elections are openly flouted. Laws relating to the use of communal propaganda, use of inducements in cash or kind are also rampant. There was a time when Election Commission headed by T N Seshan had been able to check malpractices, like booth capturing. He also checked the use of communal propaganda. But over the years Election Commission has become a toothless tiger.
We see more violations and moral code of conduct is openly violated, personal attacks on opponents and use of abusive language has become common. The Commission in some states is holding a single day poll while in others it has extended the same to eight rounds. The moral authority of the commission is not the same as it has been accused of favouring the ruling party.
Conducting free and fair elections are an important part of our democratic set up and there is an urgent need to check malpractices like excessive use of money, state agencies and communal propaganda.
There is need to restore people’s faith in the electoral process. Despite some shortcomings, the elections in India have been free and fair but to ensure that it remains so care will have to be taken so that it remains so in the future also.
Election Commission has done it in the past and can be effective in future also. We need people who run it to give up timidity and use powers they have been given (IFS)
(The writer is a veteran journalist. The views are personal)