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State Funding of Elections: A much-needed reform

New Delhi, March 8 (G’nY News Service): The shortcomings associated with the system of electing candidates mainly with the use of money is growing malefic day by day. In 1952 the elections were not as expensive as they are today. In the current scenario a candidate from a political party needs to spend enormous sums towards transport, publicity and other items related to campaign for elections which makes him vulnerable and amenable to corruption.

This raises some serious questions of how a government should regulate the use of money in the elections and what should be the amount of money spent. The issue of personal funding Vs state funding is being debated for some time now and various committees appointed by the government and the Election Commission have gone into the merits of the state funding of elections.

It has been seen that political parties prefer candidates endowed with money and muscle power as they bring in required resources to win elections. It is not uncommon for rich candidates to also donate money to the party. A study ‘Media Driven 2014 polls’ by Dr. N. Bhaskara Rao carried out by Centre for Media Studies before the polls revealed that ‘unaccounted for’ money pumped in by ‘crorepati’ candidates, corporates and contractors has pushed up the expenditure of electing a total of 543 members of parliament in the 2014 elections.

The study also said that a whopping Rs. 30,000 crores was likely to be spent by the government, political parties and candidates in the 2014 general elections, making it the most expensive elections in Indian history. According to the Representation of People Act, 1951 all candidates are required to submit the election expenses and the expenditure is expected to not cross the prescribed limits, which was revised on February 19, 2014 by the Election Commission.

The ceiling on poll expenditure was raised to Rs. 70 lakh from 40 lakh for a Lok Sabha seat and for an assembly seat it was raised to Rs. 28 lakh from 16 lakh. However an ASSOCHAM report (‘Elections to give Rs 60,000 crore GDP boost to economy’ dated 12 March 2014) before elections leads to a mockery of statutory requirements which pointed out, “this time around, each of the contestants, in majority of the cases, may end up spending Rs. 5 – 7 crores, the scanner of the Election Commission notwithstanding”.

It has been proved so far that the hidden and illegal funds of political parties and candidates cannot be checked by the existing rules and regulations of the Representation of Peoples Act because it has too many loopholes. Therefore, the only remedy that looks plausible today is the state funding of elections. A candidate thus will be completely barred from spending any money on his/her electioneering and the Election Commission should be equipped with the entire required budget for conducting an election.

Fortunately, the one institution in the country which has established its credibility beyond doubt is the Election Commission and it is a great sign for a democracy as huge as India. A study of ‘Political Finance Regulations Around the World’ by the International Institute of Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), Stockholm, 2012, spanning 180 countries shows that 71 per cent of African, 86 per cent of European, 58 per cent of Asian, 63 per cent of the American and 27 per cent of Oceania countries have the facility of direct public funding.

The question is that why the world’s largest democracy could not provide state funding of elections to curb large-scale use of money and muscle power, which invariably make the candidates prone to corruption. Once the candidates are elected it is but natural that they would attempt to recover the money spent during their campaign as well as build their coffers for future elections.

State funding on the other hand will encourage clean and upright candidates to join politics and stand for elections. This is the much-required reform in electioneering in India and will be the greatest tribute to the largest democracy.

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