Capping money in elections

Efforts to check the excessive use of money power to influence elections are unlikely to succeed, despite the on-going efforts of the Election Commission of India. It is so because parties invariably find ways to bypass whatever restrictions are put by law on election spending. It should be noted that when T N Seshan came to head the ECI, he did a lot to clean up the election process. On the surface, he succeeded in minimising the use of money by candidates and parties in the electoral fray, but in reality, he only drove the use of money below the radar of the ECI.

On Monday, at an all-party meeting organised by the ECI, the desirability of putting a cap on expenditure by parties — a cap on expenditure by candidates is already in place — was discussed, though a consensus eluded them. Smaller groups and regional parties generally rooted for such a ceiling, arguing that this alone would ensure a level playing field. The Congress was vague but finding that the BJP was opposed to such a cap, after the meeting it put out a statement, saying that it supported the ceiling but the details ought to be worked out carefully. The BJP said it was opposed to such a ceiling and instead pleaded for more transparency in the collection of funds and their use in elections. It argued that a limit on expenditure by the parties would serve no purpose while full transparency will help voters in making informed choices. It had another valid point. Since all parties are bound to file their statement of accounts  of income and expenditure, a ceiling on expenditure would make little sense. The Congress said that the proposed ceiling on expenditure by parties ought to be based on the number of candidates fielded by each party and the general expense required at the national and state level in addition to the ECI-sanctioned expenditure to each candidate.

In short, it was a ticklish issue which does not lend itself to instant solutions. As we noted, putting a limit on parties’ expenditure is unlikely to serve any purpose because they will always find ways to get round such stipulations. The role of money in elections is undeniable but despite money, the outcomes generally reflect the general will of the voters since even big money cannot buy election victories. Meanwhile, the ubiquitous Aadhaar card was sought to be put to yet another use in the electoral process with a number of parties, including the  BJP, demanding that it be linked to the electoral rolls in order to weed out bogus and duplicate voters. A good suggestion if it does not entail voter inconvenience and delay in the polling booth. Cleansing the electoral system using digital tools is a laudable exercise but it would require the cooperation of all players in the political arena.

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