Ceiling on election campaign spending

The Election Commission is again trying to ensure that the ceiling fixed for election propaganda by the parties is strictly observed by them. The EC has convened an all-party meeting in New Delhi next Monday. The EC has fixed Rs. 54 lakh for a candidate to spend for Lok Sabha polls in small States like Sikkim or Arunachal and Rs. 70 lakh for other States. For State Assembly polls the figures are respectively Rs. 20 lakh and Rs. 28 lakh. It is common knowledge that the parties spend much more than the ceiling fixed by the EC. The bigger and more resourceful a party is, the more money it spends. Smaller parties come nowhere near them. As a result, there is no ‘level-playing field’ for the contesting parties. This apart, a party in power can use government machinery in a hundred different ways to better the winning prospects of its candidates.
Contesting elections is becoming difficult for smaller parties and independents. In the competition of spending on elections, small parties are getting eliminated. Only a few big players remain in the field. Then there are other expenses which technically cannot be called election expense but actually these are part of the money spent on election. One report says that the BJP has engaged 1.2 million workers in its IT cells all over the country. Their job is to propagate the views of the ruling party, its performance and achievements while countering the criticism made by the opponents. With the rapid rise in the number of people using mobile phones, computers and the Internet, IT has become a powerful weapon of propaganda. The less resourceful party or candidate stands no chance of winning this battle. Just as in the economic life so in the political life “monopolies” appear and the electoral battle is virtually limited between them. Others get eliminated.
This can be partly remedied by State funding of elections. The Trinamool Congress has been demanding this for a long time. But the Election Commission thinks that at the moment State funding is not possible. But this is the only way out. On the basis of expenditure statements given to the EC, the BJP spent Rs. 712.48 crore in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress came a distant second with a figure of Rs. 486.21 crore. If this is the amount of money being spent by the two major parties for the 2014 elections, it is not difficult to imagine how much money they will spend in 2019.  If adult franchise has to have any meaning, poll expenditures have to be curtailed.

Thursday, 23 August, 2018