When you hear “India”, what crosses your mind? Is it a tricolor flag? Or an aged face with spectacles? I know, most of you must have thought of Mahatma Gandhi. But here, I am talking about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who significantly represents Modern India.
Modi started this year with a tinge of disappointment, having lost 3 regional victories, but the game is still on. It is said that Indians admire Modi. But, the results of state elections says that people are still willing to vote against the party. So, we can’t predict, whether people want a “Congress-mukt Bharat” as BJP says, or “Achhe Din” (Good Days) as BJP claims.
Now, let us unveil another secret and that is – the world’s biggest democracy is going to hold the world’s most expensive elections. Surprised? Everybody is.
India is going to hold a six weeks long poll that will resound in every corner of the country, from the Himalayas of the North to the backwaters of the South, from Thar in the West to the tea fields in the East, everyone will experience a sense of patriotism and an independent right to choose the best candidate in the coming elections, starting from April 11, 2019.
According to the Centre of Media Studies, the 2019 polling exercise will cost around 500 billion rupees ($7 billion). The calculated amount is more than the amount spent on the U.S presidential and congressional elections in 2016. According to OpenSecrets.org, an organization that tracks money in American politics, about $6.5 billion was spent in the U.S presidential elections of 2016. India has crossed this amount, significantly.
During 2014 elections, the estimated amount spent was $5 billion and CMS projects that this year the amount has increased by 40%, which means it costs $8 per voter whereas 60% of the population lives on $3 per day.
The chairman of the Centre for Media Studies, N. Bhaskar Rao says – “Most of the jump in spending will come in the use of social media, travel, and advertising.”
Evidently, the amount spent on Social Media is dramatically high. For promotion, parties take to several mediums which include, media advertisements, publicity materials (posters, stickers, banners, hoardings, and flags) and also public meetings, rallies, and processions.
In 2014, Lok Sabha elections, out of Rs 712.47 crore, BJP spent Rs. 463 crore only on publicity while Congress spent Rs. 346.41 around 71% of the total amount.
“According to my estimates, Indian elections are the costliest elections in the entire world if you take into account the GDP, per capita cost, buying propensity and the total number of people it caters,”- Jayaprakash Narayan stated.
Politicians believe that “In order to win, build your brand first”. And, this is exactly what Indian politicians are doing. One is building a brand through well-articulated speeches, and the other is creating a brand through the political “blame-game”.
We can’t pin down the exact data, but it has been witnessed that the cost of campaigning is getting higher with each passing term.
Now, let us look where the money goes. Is it going into “vote buying” or in “real campaigns”?
A major part of the total expenditure goes into branding. Because, Politicians can’t afford to be unpopular and so, publicity is one special key for them. The maximum part goes into media advertisement, then comes posters, banners, and hoardings ultimately used in rallies and processions.
“Branding for a candidate is a relatively new phenomenon because a lot of the sophisticated candidates have come, but that will still be under 5-10%. The real cost is vote buying. Apart from that genuine campaigning also costs. You need to take care of party workers, need to feed them,” as stated by Jayprakash Narayan.
Yes, travel. The second largest share is being spent on travelling for campaigns. Last year, BJP spent Rs. 159.15 crore while Congress spent Rs. 129.5 crore on helicopters and other vehicles used by party leaders for campaigning purposes.
There are around 8,000 candidates fighting for 545 seats, indeed a tough competition. According to a survey by Jennifer Bussell, an assistant professor at the University of California, Indian politicians said, more than 90% of peers feel pressured to offer gifts like cash, liquor, or personal goods.
Media houses, television sets, and even goats have been offered gifts in some areas. More than 1.3 billion of illegitimate cash, gold, drugs, and other goods were seized by the Election Commission in Karnataka.
It has already been warned by the Election Commission, that nominating someone with the same name would make voters confused, and ultimately split the votes.
In election history, popular figures have also been targeted. According to a report, actress Hema Malini once stood against two others of the same name. So, getting popular faces in the party won’t be easy, while also being expensive.
Being a country having one of the largest economies, it is necessary to uphold our autonomy, integrity, and credibility. Party Leaders spend 20% to 30% of the amount on rallies and processions.
In order to maintain paid supporters or poor people who are available to carry flags, Indian politicians need to have good rallies and for that, they spend on mundane items like vehicles, speakers, chairs, tables, etc.
However, this suggests that the budget is getting higher not only because voters receive gifts, but also because campaigns are getting ambitious, luxurious, and competitive.
2014 was considered the costliest election ever in India’s history, the amount spent was increased from 242 crores (2004) to Rs. 1,037 (2014). When the election dates were announced, BJP and Congress collected Rs. 588 crore and Rs. 109.07 crore respectively, through cash, cheques, and demand drafts.
Maharashtra was the top contributor for both the parties. Rs. 80 crore was handed out to BJP and Rs. 62.5 crore to Congress. Typically, about 15% of the donations were accepted from corporates, business houses, and electoral trusts.
Now, just think about it. How much are politicians spending on campaigning, with a motive to remain in power? Or for some kind of validation? We can’t really decide.
Since the world is getting digital, our leaders should make an attempt to design a platform for digital elections by verifying voters through Aadhar card or Election card over Smartphones. It is guaranteed that the whole election would cost less than 1/10th of the present cost.
All in all, politicians need to rethink the amount of money spent on elections.