South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

How money influences India’s elections
Amjed Jaaved

Money and drugs fuel Indian polls
India, the world’s largest democracy, stands divided in two worlds, the affluent and the poor Half of India’s population lives below the poverty line of a dollar a day. The poor can be influenced by cash, booze, and other freebies. Money plays an important part in determining the poor voter’s choice. Historically, the richer party wins. In 2014, BJP spent more than Congress. So, it won. It spent Rs714.28 crore. Congress spent Rs200 crore less.

The bulk goes to media advertising. The BJP spent over one-third of its funds on advertising. Political parties shun paupers and nominate candidates with hefty wallets.

Corporate donations: Corporate contributions, up to five percent of a company’s net profits, to political parties are legal. In reality, huge funds are collected from individuals and companies by extortion or as a consideration for past or future favours. The disclosure norms are very feeble and unenforced.

One could judge who would win by the mood of corporate donors. The BJP is the richest party followed by Congress. The Congress has ruled the country for 49 of its 71 years as an independent nation. But during the recent elections, it was short of funds. It had to appeal for the first time in its history for donations. In 2017, it had an income of $33 million as compared to BJP’s $151.5 million. Daring 2016-2017, Congress income decreased by $5.3 million while the BJP’s income doubled.

Hindutva supporters want to convert India into a centralised state for the brahmans only. The rise of the BJP from a marginal Hindu nationalist party of the 1980s to the majority party in Parliament in 1999 and thereafter vindicates the ascendancy of Hindutva trend

Lack of Transparency: India’s Representation of Peoples Act forbids politicians to possess, distribute or transport illegal cash, narcotics, drugs, liquor, gold and silver and a host of freebies and gifts to lure people to vote in their favour. Yet, the recent election saw the biggest seizure of drugs, cash, liquor, etc till date in any Indian election.

Seizures crossed the figures of 2014 Lok Sabha election. Enforcement agencies let the offenders slip off with a slap on wrist. The Election Commission kept issuing clean chits for all sorts of violations of the election code. As on May 20, cash, drugs/narcotics, liquor, precious metal and freebies worth Rs 3,456.22 crore had been seized. This amount is 90 percent of official expenditure on holding the elections.

India’s Income Tax Department found sacksful of banknotes worth Rs 10.48 crore stashed in a warehouse owned by a worker of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a major political party in Tamil Nadu.

Comparison with 2014 election seizures: About Rs 300 crore in cash was seized during the 2014 election. This excludes 1,6,184,508 litres of liquor and 17,070 kg of drugs (worth hundreds of crores) seized from different parts of India.

2019 seizures: Between March 26 and May 20, Rs 841.11 crore in cash was seized. This is 180 per cent more than the total cash seized in 2014 (Rs 299.943 crore).

Comparing the seizure data for 2014 with the data for this year, we find that the total quantity of liquor seized this year has already surpassed the quantity seized in 2014. The figure for 2019 Lok Sabha election is 18.6 milllion litres. The quantity of drugs seized so far is 77,631.65 kg.

Expenditure Ceiling: Individual candidates can spend up to Rs seven million on election campaigns. This amount is too little to meet even poster-printing costs in important contests. Key candidates spend between Rs 750 million to Rs three billion. Lesser stars spend between Rs 150 to500 million and marginal candidates between Rs10 and 100 million.

Mammoth rallies where half a million people cheer candidates cost upwards of Rs 30 million. Every major party holds at least one major rally or counter-rally a day. Add to it the cost of sending thousands of workers out in cars, trains, planes, rickshaws, bicycles, bullock carts, tractors, camels, horses, and boats to woo voters with speeches, street plays, and songs.

Post-election trend: Now Muslms are being lynched for wearing caps or going to mosques. “Ghar wapsi” campaign to reconvert ajlaf (local better-caste converts) and arzal (Dalit) Muslims and Christian converts is in full swing. Muslim contributions to India’s architecture, music, language and arts are being spurned. Affluent Muslims are moving to safer places. Those living abroad are afraid to return to India. BJP is determined to remove special status of occupied Kashmir. Kashmiri leaders who publicly expressed pro-Pak sentiments are being prosecuted. It is an everyday phenomenon to dub Kashmiri natives as `terrorists’ and kill them during `encounters’ or nocturnal searches. Jawaharlal Nehru University was forced to consider a proposal to set up a study centre in the name of Hindutva ideologue, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has called upon Modi to explain exclusion from cabinet of Brahmin leaders from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and several other states. Momentum for building Ram Temple as demanded by VHP will be accelerated. BJP MLAs are imparting live-ammunition training to students. Harder times await the Muslims.

Nathuram Godse, who killed Gandhi, is being glorified. A serving IAS officer reflected anti-Gandhi sentiment in a tweet demanding removal of Gandhi’s statues, and of his picture from currency notes. Anti-Gandhi social posts are ignored but anti-Modi tweets and Facebook posts are prosecuted. The BJP is vigorously popularising a fake version of Indian history, Wakanda. They claim that Hindus invented airplanes and genetic engineering thousands of years ago. Hindutva supporters want to convert India into a centralised state for the brahmans only. The rise of the BJP from a marginal Hindu nationalist party of the 1980s to the majority party in Parliament in 1999 and thereafter vindicates the ascendancy of Hindutva trend. Obviously, India is the largest democracy only in form but not in substance.