It’s a riddle in an enigma
CP Bhambhri on why state funding of polls will not save corporates from extortion bids
Photo: Shailendra Pandey
EVERY DEMOCRATIC competitive political system, at one time or the other, has been confronted with a complex situation of resolving the knotty problem of finding funds for elections. Not only this. Western democratic countries have enacted laws for the regulation of expenditure by political parties and contesting candidates during elections.
A cursory reading of laws passed by Western legislatures regarding electoral expenditure reflects national specificities. The common thread in all these laws, whether Australian or American or Canadian, is that a ‘ceiling’ on expenditure during the elections is fixed by the law of the land and an effort has been made to keep electoral competition ‘clean’ from the ugly power of moneyed people. The Western countries have tried to check financial malpractices during the elections by asking every party and candidate to declare not only the amount of money spent during the elections, but also publicly declare the sources of funds collected by parties for contesting elections. The corrupting influence of ‘money power’ has been legally curbed by asking the parties to get their accounts properly ‘audited’ by public agencies and completely disclose the name of fund givers to the parties for elections.
So every Western democratic country has faced the challenge of ‘moneyed’ people hijacking the democratic verdict by bribing voters. Laws have been put on the statute book to deal with the malaise of money power in democracy. India has also grappled with the monster of the role of money during the elections and on the basis of concrete experience, remedial methods have been adopted to curb the power of money and compel the parties to submit public statements of the sources of funds and the names of fund-gives. The Tata Group maintains a public record of funds donated to parties for elections.
The situation in India is quite dire because every serious candidate who is involved an competitive electoral process whether of the State Assembly or the Lok Sabha, even in the Panchayat and Zila Parisahd elections, spends huge money. Electoral democracy has been completely vitiated and corrupted because it has become a competition among those only who can spend maximum money during the elections. Of late, the Election Commission of India has evolved mechanisms of checking the misuse of money power during the elections but these efforts, while praiseworthy, have hardly succeeded in curbing the role of money power, including huge black money, during the elections.
Political parties defend their actions by arguing that parties do not have their own funds, and this compels them to raise funds from private sources. Thus this should be considered a ‘necessary evil’ and price for democracy. Many a time, it has been suggested by parties and reformists that ‘public funding’ of elections from government sources is the only method which can cleanse the electoral system from corrupting the role of ‘moneyed people’. This plea that government should provide ‘funds’ to political parties for contesting elections and such ‘public funds’ will ensure that parties would not approach and collect funds from private big business houses is in circulation. This suggestion has not found favour with any government-in-power because there is no guarantee that parties after receiving ‘public funds’ will stop collecting ‘funds’ from private ‘donors’.
While everyone is concerned about the polluting impact of involvement of ‘money power’ during the elections, the mechanism to curb the role of money has been always found inadequate because parties do not follow, in practice, the rule of democratic game because the winning of an elections, by any means, foul or fair, has become the sole motive of every contestant in elections. Politics has become a lucrative business and it is not surprising that elected representatives of poor voters are filthy rich crorepatis.
If declaration of personal sources of income and wealth by elected representatives are taken at face value, there is no doubt that Indian politics is controlled by ‘crorepatis’. Only one illustration will substantiate the argument. The Association for Democratic Reforms and Uttar Pradesh Election Watch observes that ‘the average individual assets of the 285 contesting mlas for the 2012 UP election increased from Rs 1.21 crore (2007) to Rs 3.56 crore (2012).’ Democracy has to be safeguarded form the penetration of ‘moneyed people’ who finance a politicians in return for benefits and a quid pro quo emerges between elected public policy makers and private business empires and government-in-action becomes ‘privatised’ in the service of the private fund givers’.
BIG BUSINESS is also worried about the growing demands of politicians for funds for private purposes in return for favours by the government. Party/parties-in-power discriminate against ‘non-obliging’ businessmen and this makes everyone fall in line. In desperation, Adi Godrej, Chairperson of Godrej Group, observed on 22 April that ‘…industry is ready to pay democratic cess to facilitate state funding of elections as it is the main cause of corruption.’ The President of the Confederation of Industry set the cat among the pigeon by publicly suggesting that ‘Electoral reforms are very important. Personally, I favour state funding of elections. We are very open to imposing a democratic cess to fund elections.’ Adi Godrej said that ‘tax could be paid by cheque and ‘create an ‘electoral/political pool of funds.’
Electoral reform, including cleansing of elections from the evil of money power, has been on the agenda of every Chief Election Commissioner from 1952-53 to 2012 and many committees and commissions have also been appointed during the last six decades to suggest the reform of elections, unfortunately, nothing substantial has happened in this direction. The opposite of electoral reforms has emerged where politics has become a means to enrich oneself by misusing the public office occupied by elected representative. If Godrej is pleading for a cess for elections, Laxmi Niwas Mittal, the world’s largest steel maker in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh observed on 28 April that ‘Things are moving slowly. There is no doubt. Process approval is taking time.’ Delaying the clearances required by industrialists is a tactic adopted by politicians and bureaucrats to collect ‘speed money’ for quickening the process of decision-making. How can the state funding of elections curb the role of money power in elections? Files move only if decision-makers are given huge funds. Adi Godrej and the Tatas should think of some other method of dealing with the evil of money power.
CP Bhambhri is former dean of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.