Can state funding of elections become reality ever?

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(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)

The State funding of elections is financially unrealistic. It will result in unacceptable burden on the tax payers. It will be yet another political farce or fraud on “We the People of India” by the elected few – mostly crooks and criminals.

Let me recount the total number of seats for which elections have to be held at least once in five years to the Parliament and State Assembly’s: 545 Lok Sabha; 245 Rajya Sabha; 4129 MLAs for State Assemblies; and 2872 MLCs for State Councils. That is, a total of 7791 seats.

What about the number of candidates contesting elections in each constituency? De facto, a total of 8,251 candidates contested for the 543 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 elections. That is, nearly 15 candidates for each state.

Even in the State Assembly elections for 70 seats in Delhi in 2015, there were 673 candidates who contested the elections. That is, nearly 10 candidates for each seat.
Next, a look at the number of political parties in the fray: 6 National parties; 52 State level parties; and 1139 Registered unrecognized parties. Add to them, the number of independents and new political party entrants.

70 political parties contested elections in Delhi in 2015.

Always remember that state funding cannot be limited to elections to Lok Sabha or State Assemblies only. Even all other democratic institutions down to Panchayat Raj Institutions, Corporations, and Municipal councils and so on will demand state funding. They too are responsible for generation of black money and corruption.

Sooner than later, even others participating in the elections would demand for state funding like 641 Zilla Parishads; 5542 Mandal/Taluk/Block Samitis; and more than 2.4 lakhs Gram Panchayats covering more than 5.8 lakhs villages and nearly 99.6 per cent of rural population. Add to them, 3540 Urban Local Bodies like Corporations, Municipalities and Nagarpalikas with 68,554 seats. That is, a total of 2,49,797 institutions what with mind boggling number of seats and number of contestants for each seat.

Furthermore, it is not possible to determine quantum of funding and fix uniform scales at all levels due to a variety of local conditions governing elections – size of constituency, population etc.

Today, politics is a rich man’s game. Money power and muscle power are mutually interdependent that play a vital part in final outcomes.
For example, aspirants reportedly pay huge sums to party hierarchy to get tickets – some nearly Rs.5 crores.

Everyone is also aware that use of money power has grown astronomically with candidates in some constituencies spending 15-30 crores for Lok Sabha/Rajya Sabha seat. Even for the ‘Sarpanch” in Gram Panchayats around urban conglomerates, candidates spend 1-5 crores depending on real estate boom. The local Sarpanch’s in such constituencies wield more power than local MLAs or even MPs.

Use of money power is inextricably linked to muscle power and freebies like liquor, laptops, Saris, etc. Under-reporting/hiding campaign expenses – nearly 6753 candidates officially declared expenditure varying between 45 to 55% of prescribed limit. 600 million rupees ($13.3m; £8.3m) in cash was seized in Tamil Nadu in the run-up to the state elections in April 2011. During the bye-elections to seven MLA seats, Rs.7 crores has been seized in Andhra Pradesh.

In reality, the current monetary ceiling limits are quite farcical. There is no uniform rate prescribed under law for election expenditure. It varies from state to state: Rs 10 to 25 lakhs for MP candidates; and Rs. 5 to 10 lakhs for MLA candidates. Recently, the Odisha State Election Commission has raised the limit of poll expenditure from Rs. 30,000 to 60,000 at Panchayat level. The ceiling limits have been doubled for the zila parishad (district level) to Rs. 1.5 lakhs from the existing Rs.75, 000/.

Of course, the issue of determining election expenditure is not easy. Election expenditures have been broadly categorized under two heads. The first type is election expenditure, which is allowed under the law for electioneering, subject to it being within the permissible limit.

This would include expenditure connected on public meetings, posters, banners, vehicles, advertisements in print or electronic media etc.

The second category of expenditure is on items which are not permitted under law. For example, distribution of money, liquor, or any other item to the electors with intent to influence them comes under the definition of bribery and is an offence under the IPC. The expenditure on such items is illegal.

Yet another form of expenditure which is coming to the fore in recent times is on media surrogate advertising.

In retrospect, Indian democracy is in a total mess and disarray. Current electoral malpractices are breeding feudalist-cum-fascist factionists, dons, smugglers, extortionists, land grabbers and IT defaulters as leaders. When criminal’s breakthrough the back door of democracy, the true democrats flee from the front door or through whichever opening is available to them.

Elections are the worst fraud in the name of democracy. Today, status quo suits majority. For majority, radical changes are frightening – unprecedented challenges, unprecedented opportunities, unprecedented risks and unprecedented uncertainty.

Having enjoyed uncontrolled freedoms for the past 70 years, even “Am Admi” may resist any temptation to support dynamic shifts spelling doom to personal freedoms. After all, radical changes may deny largesse’s out of corrupt practices in vogue besides disturbing peaceful ways.

Thus, the idea of State funding is unrealistic. Without a revolutionary political reform, state funding of elections are not financially feasible. On reflection, it is a thoughtless, unimaginative and unrealistic proposal. If attempted, its fallout is bound to result in pauperization of the society and nation.

Let there be no second thoughts that India’s dynamic societal flux warrants de novo holistic electoral reforms squarely addressing appropriateness of representative parliamentary democracy in its existing form.

I dare challenge political leadership demonstrates will to attempt such a fundamental transformation of the existing political system without attracting the wrath of rivals.

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