It’s a big joke – the Election Commission of India (ECI) has proposed to the Law Ministry that it wants to set a limit on election expenditure by political parties towards Parliamentary or Assembly elections.
A limit? That’s a non-starter. Even a kindergarten child will tell you that! Yes, we can surely have it on paper, stipulate a law even but no one bothers to adhere to it. And yes, lying on oath is not a big deal in our country.
Late Gopinath Munde, during the campaigning of the 2014 elections, said in a public meeting that he had spent Rs.8 crore on his election campaign but his signed, legal document, which is the expenditure affidavit accounted for only Rs.19.37 lakh as election spend.
During Lok Sabha Elections in 2014, the limit of expenditure for a parliamentary constituency in bigger states like U. P, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh was Rs. 70 lakhs and the lowest limit for a parliamentary constituency was Rs. 54 lakhs for the constituencies of smaller states such as Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and Goa. And time and again, it is seen that the expenditure statements submitted by the MPs of the Lok Sabha 2014 elections to the ECI, it is seen that the MPs continue to declare election expenditure which is significantly lower than the expense limit.
The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and National Election Election Watch analysed election expenditure and vote share of 4087 out of 4120 sitting MLAs in 11 states.
The report found:
- MLAs from 11 states namely Kerala, Tripura, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Mizoram, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Assam and Bihar have spent more than 50 % of the expenditure limit.
- Among the State which have gone for elections in the last 5 years (2013-2018), it has been observed that the maximum amount of expenditure by the MLAs has been done for the vehicles used for campaign. They have spent only 5% on the campaigning through print and electronic media.
- The ADR has also put out a report on the 2014 Lok Sabha election expenditure affidavits:
- Based on the election expense declarations of 537 MPs analysed from Lok Sabha, 2014 to the ECI, 176 MPs (33%) have declared election expenses of less than 50% of the expense limit in their constituency.
- Gourav Gogoi of INC from Kaliabor Constituency, Assam was the only one who declared an election expenditure of Rs. 82.40 Lakhs (118% of the expense limit).
- Based on the election expense declarations of 537 MPs from Lok Sabha 2014 to the ECI, the average amount of money spent by them in the elections is only about Rs 40.33 lakhs, which is 58% of the expense limit.
- 16 MPs have declared election expenditure incurred by them (Section 1) which is more than their total assets declared during the elections. Dr.Shrikant Eknath Shinde of Shiv Sena from Kalyan Constituency, Maharashtra declared total assets of Rs. 9.98 lakhs during the elections, however he has declared election expenses of Rs. 51.34 lakhs (Rs. 41.36 lakhs more than his total assets). Similarly, Kamakhya Prasad Tasa of BJP from Jorhat Constituency, Assam declared total assets of Rs. 16.94 lakhs during the elections, however he has declared election expenses of Rs. 58.21 lakhs (Rs. 41.26 lakhs more than his total assets).
Well, there is no doubt that limits are just on paper. What actually gets spent has no limits – get the votes under any cost – that’s the mantra.
ECI’s intentions are good and the limit can have an impact if and only if, it is implemented and enforced. But on a much logical note, more than setting limits, which are meaningless, it would be better if the ECI sets new rules in transparency and that in itself will ensure enforcement.
Actually, the Central Information Commission did try its level best to achieve transparency in political financing but for this cause, all political parties united and with one voice vehemently opposed the move. And all the political parties, despite all the tall talks, have defied the CIC’s order for administering the RTI Act. The matter is in the Supreme Court where the Govt of India wants to ensure that none of the political parties should come under the RTI Act. That’s how honest these so-called leaders of India are!
In the coming months, cash and only cash will be the king – so much so for demonetization.