Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) and Congress President Rahul Gandhi. (Source: BloombergQuint) 

Corruption Is Back As Poll Rhetoric, But Do Voters Really Care?

Corruption scandals around 2G allocation, coal block allotment and Commonwealth Games drove the narrative in 2014 as Prime Minister Narendra Modi rode to power. Five years later, his Bharatiya Janata Party is again trying to corner the Congress over corruption as the Enforcement Directorate questions Robert Vadra, husband of Priyanka Gandhi, over alleged money laundering. The Congress is hitting back alleging Modi’s involvement in swinging the Rafale defence deal contract in favour of Anil Ambani. But do voters really care about corruption?

“Corruption is a bizarre beast,” said political analyst Radhika Ramaseshan, pointing to its unpredictability as an election issue. While corruption allegations over the Bofors deal sunk the government of the day in the late 80s and had a big impact in 2014, damage to Modi’s image from the Rafale controversy will depend on how united the opposition is.

On Rafale deal, it is only Rahul Gandhi who is doing a solo act. Other opposition parties have not really joined ranks with him.
Radhika Ramaseshan, Political Analyst

Lokniti-CSDS data shows a consistent drop in the efficacy of corruption as an electoral issue over three surveys, though the last available data is up till May 2018.

C-Voter’s monthly tracker data also shows that the issue has lost steam over the last five years.

“Corruption per se is never an issue, it is perceived corruption which is an electoral issue,” said Yashwant Deshmukh, the managing director and chief editor of C-Voter Broadcast. His surveys show Modi needs to worry more about farmers issues and unemployment than corruption. It would be difficult for the Congress to get people to believe Modi is personally corrupt, he said.

When I talk to my researchers they say the one thing that voters are unlikely to believe is that Modi is corrupt.
Yashwant Deshmukh, MD, CVoter Broadcast

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s personal reputation was incorruptible too, said Jagdeep Chhokar, founder member of the Association of Democratic Reforms. For Chhokar, the biggest blow to the fight against corruption occurred during the Modi term with the introduction of electoral bonds as a tool for poll funding that ensures complete anonymity for big corporate donors. This has “opened the floodgates of corruption”, Chhokar said.

Even a drug dealer can open a company in India and donate to political parties. And then this government claims they are working against corruption?
Jagdeep Chhokar, Founder Member, Association For Democratic Reforms

Watch the full debate here

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