The world’s costliest election just concluded in India-- and the ‘horrors of money’ are set to get worse

The world’s costliest election just concluded in India-- and the ‘horrors of money’ are set to get worse
A police official arranges seized unaccounted cash from a Sangrur resident, in Patiala.Photo)(
  • As much as ₹600 billion ($9 billion) was spent, this election, according to a report by the Center for Media Studies.

  • The money spent in India’s 2019 general election was more than the money spent in a much richer country like US.

  • The cost of every vote in India is pegged at ₹700, according to the estimate.
The Lok Sabha Poll 2019 is a vicious, vigorous money guzzler--- where candidates fought at ‘any cost’.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) confiscated more than twice the amount of cash, gold and liquor they did, last year. But that seems to have had no effect on the amount spent on this costliest election ever, anywhere. According to a report by the Center for Media Studies, as much as ₹600 billion (nearly $9 billion) was spent, this election.

Even in a much richer country like the US, the total amount of money spent in the last election in 2016 was relatively lesser at $6.5 billion for congressional and Presidential races combined, according to campaign watchdog Open Secrets.

This amount of money spent on election does more damage than just being a financial burden. “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?” commented S Y Quraishi, former chief election commissioner (CEC) of India, said in a foreword to the report.

Excessive money spent in campaigning is a harbinger of bad governance which will be ridden with vested interests who would want bang for the buck spent on electing a candidate or a government.

According to Quraishi, the next election will be no better in terms of being free, fair and transparent, if the rising tide of criminalisation of politics and overarching influence of money in politics isn’t stemmed.


Direct ‘Benefit’ Transfer

More than two-thirds of India’s legislators are millionaires, many times over. It is hence not surprising that the candidates of this election have dug deep into their pockets.

This time, newer and convenient delivery models of election bribing has come to the fore.

“For the first time it is confirmed that bank transfer of money on the eve of poll has become a new route to lure voters in the name of one or more scheme,” the report said. As per the estimates, the cost of every vote is pegged at ₹700.

One of the examples is the transfer of money to farmers under PM-KISAN, a central government scheme announced in the recent budget. Business Insider found that in many parts of Uttar Pradesh, farmers received the money into their bank accounts less than 48 hours before the polling.

While this may be clear in legal terms as the PM-KISAN scheme was rolled out before the the Election Commission's model code of conduct kicked in. However, it cannot be denied that the transfer may have timed to influence the voter's choice in the nick of time.

The world’s costliest election just concluded in India-- and the ‘horrors of money’ are set to get worse

Poll candidates have also diversified their offerings to voters. As per the seizures reported by the Election Commission, drugs and narcotics, liquor, gold and silver have made to the list of handouts, along with other freebies.

“It is high time that Parliament deliberates on poll expenditure for campaigns, and about election funding, preceded by serious national discussions,” the report said. But, like Quraishi doubted with lawmakers who have spent ‘so much’ to get there, will try to restrict money--- will remain a big question.

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