These estimates are by no means farfetched - in at least
a dozen assembly constituencies the major party candidates
spent an average of Rs 2.5 crores, and in a few Lok Sabha
constituencies the expenditure was as high as Rs 5 crores.
expenditure in Andhra Pradesh is probably higher than in
most States. But the picture is equally grim for most parts
of India. The important aspect is, the bulk of the expenditure
incurred is for illegitimate purposes -to buy votes, bribe
officials and hire hoodlums. In a typical Assembly constituency,
around 50,000 voters are paid about Rs. 50 to Rs.500 and
given liquor sachets or redeemable coupons. Incurring all
this expense does not guarantee victory, but not spending
it almost certainly guarantees defeat! The reasons for this
should be examined separately.
now let us focus on the consequences of illegal collection
of funds and illegitimate expenditure in elections. A Rs.600
crore expenditure by the candidates requires a return of
Rs.6000 crores to cover a reasonable interest and a 'fair'
return on their investment. Candidates need to be compensated
for the time and energy invested in cultivating party bosses,
and organizing dharnas and demonstrations. Often large sums
of money change hands to secure the party nomination. Election
is also a high risk 'winner-take-all' business, and hence
the risk premium is high. Apart from the minimal requirement
for a 'comfortable' life, the elected member also has to
raise money for future elections. The cronies and hangers-on
who are the indispensable part of a politician's entourage
have to be sustained. To desire a ten-fold return on all
this investment is not an unreasonable estimate!
a democracy, however flawed, does not permit extortion of
money at gun-point. (Although this is happening in pockets
of India). Herein starts the intricate maze. The politicians'
desired return of Rs 6000 crores has to be collected by
an elaborate mechanism through the agency of the vast army
of employees. This translates itself as 'rent' or bribe
for most public services. There are about 3000 government
employees for every politician in office. If each of them
retains only a small collection fee, the total amount extorted
from citizens would be nearly 20 fold - or about Rs 120000
crores. In this way an election expenditure of Rs 600 crores
leads to corruption totaling Rs.120000 crores over five
years. (With legislatures dissolving sooner, the returns
should move faster!) And all this in just one major State.
the real price paid is not merely money collected as bribe.
It is the state of anxiety and uncertainty in which a citizen
is kept to sustain this chain of corruption. It is infliction
of harassment and humiliation, and lost time and opportunity.
Citizens aren't always eager or willing to pay a bribe for
basic public services. (Only a small part of corruption
is collusive - where the bribe giver also benefits at the
cost of the public exchequer. Most corruption is extortionary.)
But experience teaches us that if we do not pay, we end
up losing at least ten times the bribe amount. It is this
anxiety and uncertainty which ensures the flow of money
from the people to the top rungs of power. Otherwise the
system breaks down!
in a nutshell is the consequence of a corrupt electoral
system. The legal limit for expenditure in Assembly election
is Rs.6,00,000 in most States, and Rs.15,00,000 for Lok
Sabha election. But the actual expenditure is often 10 to
20 times the ceiling, and as Prime Minister Vajpayee stated
several times in Parliament almost every legislator begins
his political career with a big lie - he signs a statement
declaring that he did not exceed the legal limit. The expense
incurred is not only illegal, but also illegitimate.
we want to curb corruption and stop misgovernance, the key
is comprehensive electoral reform.