Indian elections and money power

          WITH the Congress party too announcing its candidates for the forthcoming Manipur Legislative Assembly election and the BJP, which is emerging as the ruling party’s main rival, likely to soon come out with its full list; campaigning for the election ‘festival’ is all set to reach a feverish pitch after a brief lull in the last few days owing to indecision on the part of the party leaders to finalise their respective nominees. While political analysts see the two-phase assembly election as one of the most crucial democratic exercises in Manipur, for the political novice, especially the majority Meetei community settled in the valley, the polls would be akin to a curtain raising event for the extravagantly celebrated Yaoshang, the festival of colours. If one recounts a survey conducted by New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies on poll spending ahead of the 2014 parliamentary elections, which showed upward trend on ‘unaccounted for’ money pumped in by ‘crorepati’ candidates, corporates and contractors in electing 543 MPs, then there should be no doubt that Indian elections have been an increasingly expensive affair, thus becoming synonymous with a festival. As per the survey report, out of the estimated Rs 30,000 crore expected expenditure, the exchequer had to cough up Rs 7-8000 crore to hold the electoral exercise for the 16th Lok Sabha. While the Election Commission was projected to spend around Rs 3500 crore, the Union Home Ministry, Indian Railways, various other government agencies and state governments entailed expenditure of a similar amount to ensure free and fair polls.

        Notwithstanding extensive measures being taken up by the Election Commission of India and executed by the Chief Electoral Officer Manipur for checking involvement of money and muscle power in elections, there would be some areas which are certain to elude even the most vigilant members of the different monitoring committees formed by the election department. There has been rumour that majority of the participants in political campaigns, such as rallies to showcase numerical superiority of supporters and even public meetings are ‘paid audiences’. Unless the recipients of freebies turn hostile and manage to provide visual or documentary evidences to proof that the election code of code has been violated, the Election Commission is unlikely to have the guts for pulling up and initiating punitive action against the guilty candidates or their agents. Ironically, the said study highlighting the election conducting authorities’ decision to hike expenditure limits for Lok Sabha elections to a maximum of Rs 70 lakh and a minimum of Rs 54 lakh, which subsequently projected that the total poll expenditure will touch the Rs 30,000 crore mark, indicated that spending on elections is inevitable. In the aftermath of the recent demonetisation policy this time around keeping a tap on involvement of ‘unaccounted for’ money in the assembly elections in the five states might be an easier task even though politicians, who are known to be shrewd and beguiling individuals, would certainly have some tricks up their sleeves to deceive the vigilantes.

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