Is Wealth Speaking More For Election-Winners In India?

Posted by Sourajit Aiyer in Politics
December 29, 2017

An interesting observation came to the fore in the recently concluded elections in Gujarat, which raised a debate on whether wealth is increasingly speaking for probable election-winners in India now.

A study by the Association for Democratic Reforms, highlighted in a report on December 22, that showed that wealthy candidates won more frequently than less-wealthy candidates in Gujarat.

If one looks at the winners of the 180-odd constituencies of Gujarat and the assets disclosed by them, voters chose the wealthiest candidate as many as 41% of the time. Moreover, voters chose the second-wealthiest candidate 38% of the time, and the third-wealthiest candidate 12% of the time.

That is 90% of the total cases.

Of the 373 candidates who owned more than ₹1 crore in assets, as many as 36% won. This is the highest-share from among all asset brackets, since only 13% of the candidates who owned assets between ₹50 lakh to ₹1 crore won, and only 2% of the candidates who owned between ₹1 lakh to ₹50 lakh won.

Not just Gujarat, this new trend of voters choosing wealthy candidates over less wealthy ones was also seen in the five state elections that took place during 2017 – Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand. Voters chose the wealthiest candidate 33% of the time, the second-wealthiest candidate 25% of the time and the third-wealthiest candidate 17% of the time. That is 75% of the total. So does this imply a growing correlation between candidate wealth and electoral win? If voters choose winners based on the manifesto and past work, how does wealth matter? Are there valid reasons?

One reason might be the growing imperative to push the visibility further. In democracies where multiple parties compete, visibility is a necessity, just like it is for products in a competitive industry. But if the count of the parties is ever increasing, then intensifying competition necessitates further brand visibility. But this is costly beyond a point.

Multiple rallies and events across large nations cost a mint. Logistics to reach far-flung places in quick time can involve pricey choppers. Building a social media presence involves hiring scriptwriters and strategists, which is not free. A wealthier candidate may have more chance of shouldering part of these mammoth costs than a less-wealthy one, and in the process ensuring more visibility in the public eye. This cause-and-effect is debatable as it presupposes that voters end up choosing the one they see more often, but aren’t the umpteen advertisements that repeatedly push product-recall in the consumers’ mind exactly demonstrative of that?

Another reason might be candidates are increasingly viewing wealthy clients as more influential in their ability to channelize development assistance to their constituencies. This stresses the growing impatience amongst people to bridge the development gap fast, and perceive any logic as worth trying! After all, many winning constituencies vie for the limited budget funds.

This might imply a growing perception in candidates’ mind that a wealthier candidate holds more sway with the political leadership, and ergo can garner more funds. While this may not hold true as far as the actual decision methodology used by the political leaders to allocate funding is concerned and, but that is immaterial as we are only discussing voters’ perception. After all, when did voters ever become rational-thinkers?

A third reason might be that candidates think that wealthy clients have a better execution ability to deliver public services. After all, execution is essential to complete development projects within the five-year period; and someone who has demonstrated his execution ability by growing his own business and assets perhaps holds more credibility in the public eye than someone who has not.

After all, growing one’s business or investments involves skills in timing, negotiating, managing, etc. Connecting the ability to grow one’s assets to increase the constituency’s development may be flawed logically, since a less-wealthy person may be a perfect executioner or the source of the assets may not be business at all.

Nevertheless, we are only discussing the voters’ perception here. This might be demonstrative of an increasing perception to view on-ground actions with more favour than mere words in a speech, and personal assets might seem to give voters that hint of the candidates’ ability to action!

In conclusion, this new trend may not be an outcome of these reasons and only an ephemeral coincidence, but it is an occurrence nonetheless. If it persists, it might change the very playing-field as far as parties selecting the list of probable candidates is concerned!