In Charts: India’s Election Becomes The World’s Most Expensive
Prime Minister Narendra Modi being felicitated by BJP leaders (L-R) Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Nitin Gadkari, Amit Shah, Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj after party’s performance in Karnataka Assembly elections 2018, in New Delhi. (Source: PTI)

In Charts: India’s Election Becomes The World’s Most Expensive


India’s just-concluded 2019 Lok Sabha elections that saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi return to power with a bigger majority is the world’s costliest.

Around Rs 55,000 crore, or $8 billion, was spend during Lok Sabha elections, according to a report by the Centre for Media Studies. And Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party spent roughly half of that.

“In 20 years, involving six elections to Lok Sabha between 1998 and 2019, the election expenditure has gone up by around six times from Rs 9,000 crore to around Rs 55,000 crore,” the report said. “It is interesting to see how the ruling party gears up to spend much more than others.”

The spending binge meant that it beat all records. And it’s more than the U.S. presidential election of 2016 that, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, saw an expenditure of about $6.5 billion. India’s polling exercise involving over 90 crore voters spanned 75 days and involved extravagant rallies, widespread advertising and social media campaigns. All of which comes at a cost.

Rs 700
That’s the amount which was spent per voter in Lok Sabha 2019 polls.

The report suggests that the maximum amount—roughly a third of the total expense—was spent towards campaigning and publicity. The second big expenditure head was putting money directly in the hands of the voter. CMS estimates that roughly 25 percent, about Rs 15,000 crore, was distributed among voters. Illegally.

“Ten to twelve percent of voters acknowledged receiving cash ‘directly’. Two-thirds had acknowledged that voters around them also received cash for their vote,” the report said. “This practice is not new, but the extent it happened in 2019 was significant and has become part of the overall strategy of most parties.”

CMS’ estimates are based on six sources: campaign activities, voter observations, discussions with independent observers and party functionaries, analysis of candidate profile, media reports and secondary data on demgraphics.

But the New Delhi-based research organisation admits that this is only a fraction of what actually would’ve been spent. “The estimates in this report are based in the “front-end” costs and expenses traceable,” PN Vasanti, director general at CMS, said in the report. “It is only tip of the iceberg.”

Imagine how deep and wide is this iceberg beneath, and how it can damage our democracy.
PN Vasanti, Director General, CMS

CMS also criticised the Election Commission for its inaction despite the exorbitant election expenditure. “Huge rallies and fanfare” seen during campaigning indicated high expenditure which “in violation of codes and ceilings”, the report said. “And yet, nowhere anyone was issued notice or reprimanded.”

“If ECI remains a silent spectator when parties and candidates do not observe its directives, what is its sanctity?,” CMS questioned.

The report said the Election Commission should take an open review of election expenditure across states and put out the data in public. It also pushed for crowd-funding of campaigns.

Still, India’s election is home to a flood of murky anonymous funds. And worries around that may not go away anytime soon.

“Even though the horrors of money are obvious, why will they legislate in their own self interest till sufficient advocacy on the ground pushes for it?,” said SY Quraishi, Former Chief Election Commissioner of India. “We cannot expect to see the next election any better than 2019 in terms of freeness, fairness and transparency, if the rising tide of criminalisation of politics and overarching influence of money in politics isn’t stemmed.”

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