Increasing Poll Spending| What are the potential sources?

According to a report released by the independent think-tank Centre for Media Studies (CMS), the Lok Sabha elections of 2019 saw spending of whopping Rs 60, 000 crores – making it the most expensive election ever fought anywhere. Out of the above, only 15% or Rs 10, 000 crores were official expense by the government/election commission.

On average, approximately Rs 100 crores was spent per LS constituency while Rs 700 was the spend per vote. It is estimated that Rs 20-25000 crores were spent on campaign/publicity while Rs 12-15000 crores were used in direct cash distribution to voters. Expectedly, social media spending has gone up substantially with an estimated Rs 53 crores spend on publicity in platforms like Facebook, Google and YouTube. According to Facebook’s Ad Library Report, there were 1.21 lakh political ads with a total spending of more than Rs 26.5 crore between February and May 15 this year. Similarly, ad spend on Google, YouTube, and partner properties since February 19 stood at Rs 27.36 crore with 14,837 ads.

Ten to twelve percent of voters acknowledged receiving cash “directly”. But two-third had acknowledged that voters around them also received cash for their vote. Voters were lured with differed offers for their vote. Benefits were offered as promises for voting and if party comes to power. These lures include, pension, school education, annual benefit, house construction, job guarantee, etc. About 10 percent acknowledged that the candidate of the party in power had promised job, if voted again to power.

In 20 years encompassing 6 LS elections, the spend on elections has gone up more than 6 times – 9000 crores to close to 60000 crores. Another interesting observation of the report is how the party in power tends to dominate the spending charts. In 1998-99, the Congress party share of spending was 30-40% while the BJP accounted for 20-25%. In 2019, the numbers are 15-20% for the Congress and 40-45% for the BJP.

At this rate, CMS estimates spending in the next LS elections could well exceed Rs 100, 000 crores.

Now where is this money coming from? With the number of millionaire candidates on the rise, it is no surprise that contesting candidates themselves accounted for the biggest chunk – Rs 24, 000 crores (40%). Political parties are estimated to have spent another Rs 20, 000 crores (35%).

The Election Watch campaign reports by the non-governmental organisation Association for Democratic Reforms reveals certain interesting reads about the assets of the MPs and how is that different from the general citizens of the country:

(i) The gap between the assets of a MP and that of the annual gross income of a tax filing individual stands at a multiplier of 346.8. This is up from 299.8 in 2014
(ii) The average MP’s assets grew from Rs 14.7 crores in 2014 to Rs 20.9 crores in 2019. The average annual gross income of a tax paying individual has grown from Rs 4.9 lakhs in FY2014 to Rs 6.0 lakhs in FY2017 (the latest available)
(iii) The annualised rate of increase in assets for re-elected MPs is 5.1% – considerably lesser than the overall increase rate (annualised) of 7.3%. This suggests that the growth of assets is driven largely by new MPs
(iv) The above is to an extent supported by the increase in no. of MPs with declared assets of >1 crores INR – 58% in 2009, 82% in 2014 and 88% in 2019

Since the income figures pertain to FY 2017, the gap is likely to be less if FY 2019 figures were available for comparison. However, it is also true that the tax payers’ income is more than the average Indian’s income. The per capita net national income during 2018-19 is estimated to be Rs 1,25,397, according to a government statement in released in January this year. That is less than a fourth of the average gross income of tax payers (6.0 Lacs above). Therefore, the real gap between income of Indian voters and the assets of the MPs they elect is likely to be considerably higher.

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