Who will fund poll expenses in absence of “Black Money”

One hopes that the recent actions of the Government lead to black money being eliminated from Indian economy. Demonetization, action against those who hold benami properties, those keeping money in safe heavens abroad and those who parked money in banks in the hope that they would escape paying taxes are all caught and India becomes a country where majority becomes tax compliant instead of only a small minority paying taxes becomes a reality.

Brij Bhardwaj

Brij Bhardwaj

If all this happens one wonders how will our democracy work. Elections are essential part of a democracy and wheels of election depend on fuel and momentum provided by black money. Those who get elected to local bodies, state Assemblies or Parliament do submit documents to show that they have not spent over and above the absurd limits imposed by the Election Commissions, but a check would show that they all maintain duplicate accounts to keep track of expenses.

It is no secret that elections have become expensive business in India and money that can be raised through donations by corporate or supporters of political parties is limited. The result is that in the accounts submitted by political parties there is a large list of donors about whom no details are given as they are outside the limits imposed under the existing laws. No political party is prepared to change the present system or provide State funding for elections.

Result is that problem of black money has become an essential part of our economy. We may witness action selectively against leaders of political parties to catch those who hold assets disproportionate to their known sources of income presumed to have been collected by misuse of their official position. The result is that all political parties in India have no option but to encourage crony capitalism. The large business houses or prudent among them provide money for all political parties in proportion to the clout enjoyed by them and the following.

Have a look at the expenses involved in contesting elections. To start with a contribution is made to get a ticket from a political party. Other major heads are printing of posters, election material and on travel. The biggest head is money required for feeding of volunteers as well as providing them transport. The expense on polling day itself is huge as polling agents have to cover all polling booths whose number runs into three figures in case of Lok Sabha One can leave the actual calculation to experts who will have to find out cost of running hundreds of vehicles, feeding volunteers and cost of organising rallies.

For the time being I am leaving out cost of planes and helicopters hired for top leaders and cost of organising rallies in which crowds in lakhs are collected. Hiring of buses to bring people, cost of feeding them and providing them poll badges, masks. flags and other support leads to each rally cost running into crores. These rallies are held in hundreds which make a big hole in the finances. In addition there is money spent on advertising in newspapers, and electronic media. It is no secret that in many cases paid news becomes a part of the campaign expenses.

What I have listed above are legitimate expenses, but for the time being I am leaving out money spent on providing items like liquor or bribing the voters which also is a fact looking at how large sums of money are moved during the poll time. If one were to believe that funds seized by Election officials are around ten per cent of the total, it will run into hundreds of crores.

Looking at the poll in 2014 or State elections that followed one can not ignore the fact that BJP ran the most expensive and effective campaign during these polls. As such the money raised by them must have come from tainted sources as it is claimed is the case with parties in opposition under investigation at present. Leaders of all opposition parties are under attack. Selective approach, however will not solve the problem. In a democracy no political party can be in power for ever. If Congress with long history of being a part of freedom struggle and leaders like Jawahar Lal Nehru and Indira Gandhi could be voted out, BJP can not last for ever.

It has won polls in past, but lost also as such if it is serious about elimination of black money it will have to find out alternative methods of financing elections. In present system there is no alternative to use of black money to meet poll expenses. Opposition leaders may be under attack but it can change with change in political fortunes. A time has come when political parties instead of finding faults with each other find ways to finance poll expenses. In its absence war against black money will remain a sham and guilty of selective targeting.

(Brij Bhardwaj is a veteran journalist and commentator)