18 Feb 2024  |   07:31am IST

Elections will always be about the money unless the bond of greed is removed

The Supreme Court judgment to scrap electoral bonds will be respected only if Indians start asking parties “Where is your money coming from?”
Elections will always be about the money unless the bond of greed is removed

Do trading voters care how political parties are getting funded? 

There has been rightful rejoicing at the Supreme Court scrapping the practice of electoral bonds sold by parties. The reason for this decision is to give the people the right to know who is funding the political parties. With the highest of respect to the Supreme Court, its line of thinking and its spot-on and inspiring judgment, the question that needs to be asked in today’s political ecosystem is, do trading voters care how political parties are getting funded?

 The common Indian is still value-based and most value-based Indians are not changing their values. But more Indians who have a different set of values are coming into the electoral system, and political parties have realised that.

Election planning of candidates and parties has moved beyond manifestos and speeches. It is a test of your event and man management skills, the ability to fund raise and more importantly distribute and spend wisely, effectively and timely, with 70% of the “budget” used in the last 48 hours.

Manifestos have turned out to be cut-and-paste exercises in most cases. It is now about content management across different social media platforms. The right Facebook campaign, the packaging of reels and digital stories with spends of billions of rupees is where the focus lies.

All elections  have moved away from the biggest strength of the common man to the biggest strength of the wealthiest party

It’s a vicious cycle for some and a very convenient cycle for others. There is no end to the amount spent to attain power, and power ensures that there is no end to your spending ability to retain power. 

Therefore while the spirit of the Supreme Court judgement needs to be saluted, this decision will be honoured and respected once people start asking parties, where is your money coming from?

Few will ask where’s the money coming from, but more will ask what’s in it for us.

You don’t need to look far to ask why elections have become expensive. Just see what is happening around you. Do parties invest in selecting and grooming candidates to become leaders? Do they send on training, on going to villages and doing grass root programmes? Do they spend on creating village-level cadres, and do they have strong people in their local committees? The dynamics of modern poll management truly do not need conventional preparations.

The practical answer to this is that parties no longer feel the need to nurture constituencies and give the best candidate. Those who rule have the financial strength to dig deep into their pockets to manage “leaders” and key people in towns, panchayats and villages. The days of caste, community and other vote banks may be part of a political debate. But they are never a part of practical ground-level debates.

Now you need different branches of one “bank” or different banks. And to acquire those, you need wealth management, not political management. Not just each constituency, each panchayat, village and sometimes each block or waddo, needs to be independently “satisfied”. And ‘satisfaction’ has to be first given to a single point of contact who in turn will distribute the ‘satisfaction’ to his ‘bank’ of people. 

So  is not the Vitamin ‘M’ that is needed. 

And then comes the “post-poll expenses”

Finally, elections are not over even after the declaration of results. The party with the highest votes or even the highest seats, isn’t guaranteed to form the government. And sometimes the story may not even end after a government is formed. 

The war chest of Vitamin M is pulled out and the final battle for governance is fought with all guns blazing. Resorts are booked, five-star hotel rooms are kept handy for secret meetings, all private jet companies have their bookings full and airport slots are secured for quick airlifting of democratically elected people. This is a high intense drama, intrigue, suspicion and stealth, which will put any Bollywood thriller to shame.

An endless sea of ‘investors’ will ‘bond’ with parties set to take over

There will be secret benefactors, corporates and an endless sea of “investors” who will bond with parties set to take over. These are the real “electoral bonds”. And fund times will flow.

The cost estimate of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls was '500 billion rupees'

The impact of all this is enormous. Before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Archana Chaudhary and Jeanette Rodrigues, writing in Bloomberg stated that it the elections would “cost an unprecedented 500 billion rupees ($7 billion)", according to the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies. About $6.5 billion was spent during the US presidential and congressional races in 2016.

They added that interestingly, officially the biggest national parties declared a combined income of just 13 billion rupees for the year through March 2018.

Then, Simon Chauchard, a close observer of Indian elections & a lecturer at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University (USA), wrote in Hindustan Times on July 25, 2018:

The legal expenditure limit for an assembly election in Mumbai in 2014 was Rs 35 lakh. Major contenders I observed spent between Rs 1 crore and Rs 16 crore, …the legal and accounted expenses of candidates  represent . Real expenses include a large number of gifts and hand-outs to voters and/or local influencers, in line with the suspicion that voters are routinely being bribed in Indian elections.

He goes on to add: “Parties spent between 19% and 64% of their budgets on gifts to voters, which were typically disbursed through a lump-sum payment to influential citizens (such as housing society presidents or regional or caste association leaders). In addition to targeted payments to “influential citizens,” money also trickled down party networks, … (and) showered on voters in a relatively indiscriminate manner during the waning moments of the campaign.

The forefathers of our democracy did not envisage this. But democracy is also about people, their priorities and the new age “bonds” of need & greed that surpass the need for a better future for the children of the land they live in.

Simply, stopping electoral bonds will not scrap these strong bonds of greed which have made their way into the DNA of our democracy.


Iddhar Udhar