Election funding has been described as the fountainhead of corruption in the country. Will PM Modi’s demonetisation move root out this malaise? Or will it soon be business as usual?
When at 8 pm on November 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on national television that currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denomination would be invalid from midnight, in one fell swoop he dealt a crippling blow to what has been described as “the mother of all corruption in the country”-election funding. “Elections have become the fountainhead of corruption in the country. The voter does not realise that for everyRs 100 that comes, for example, from a candidate as a lure for votes, he or she is likely to end up paying 5-10 times more annually as bribes in availing basic public services that a citizen is entitled to from the government,” says a report by the Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies (CMS).
By striking at the root of corruption, Modi hopes to kill two birds with one stone. In the short term, he aims to neutralise the play of black money in the five states-including the most politically significant, Uttar Pradesh – going to polls next year. But the long-term goal is to free Indian politics and governance itself from the vice-like grip of the politician-businessman nexus. “India’s political finance reform has been stymied by two major factors: a lack of political will for reform, and an economy in which the state exerts a heavy hand, thus incentivising illicit funding,” says E. Sridharan, academic director of the University of Pennsylvania Institute for the Advanced Study of India (UPIASI) in Delhi.
According to CMS, Rs 35,000 crore was spent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, which is Rs 2,000 crore more than what the 2016 budget allocated for the health sector. This estimate doesn’t include the money changing hands in getting a party nomination as a candidate, as several parties almost openly sell tickets. For instance, in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, candidates in Uttar Pradesh used nearly Rs 500 crore to get tickets from political parties, organise rallies and to woo voters, claims an officer of the state Election Commission’s Financial Intelligence Unit.
However, the official estimate of the expenses for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls is just Rs 7,000-8,000 crore, which means the rest-Rs 27,000 crore-is unaccounted for. A hypothetical calculation explains that across all 4,120 assembly constituencies, candidates spent nearly Rs 12,000 crore of black money.
Though he later retracted his statement, the late BJP minister Gopinath Munde admitted he had spent Rs 8 crore in the 2009 Lok Sabha poll. According to a US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks, one sitting Lok Sabha member had casually said in 2009 that he would spend an amount equivalent to the legal limit on the day of the election only.