Limit corruption, not election expenses

Even as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) fights allegations of taking black money in election funds from fake firms, election expense statements submitted by winning Assembly candidates in Maharashtra compel us to wonder whether political parties, or their candidates, need so much money.

The Maharashtra Election Watch (MEW) and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) have observed in a data analysis of the expense statements, that even though candidates constantly claim that the election expenditure limit is very low, 120 MLAs out of 288 (42%) have declared election expenses lower than 50% of the expense limit of Rs 28 lakh.

Going by what we have experienced during election campaigns over the past several years, especially after the strict enforcement initiated by then Chief Election Commissioner TN Seshan, the submissions are hard to believe as ‘true’ statements. Cash, usually black money, overflows when it comes to covert ways of wooing voters. In last year’s general and Assembly elections, the police managed to seize piles of unaccounted cash being transported. People openly talk of getting paid and treated in kind for votes they cast.

This expenditure essentially higher than the figures in the submitted accounts does not get recorded in the books. We tend to question why poll managers manipulate expense statements when actual expenses run into several crores of rupees, but setting a cap on expenses will always force political parties and candidates to look for ways to fool the Election Commission, and then work under pressure to frame donor-friendly policies. In such a scenario, donors like corporate houses will continue to have decisions made in their favour. And honest politicians this breed may be rarer but can influence policy-making given a chance will continue to bear the brunt.

Instead, let there be a provision that allows parties and candidates to seek donations and spend without any cap. Make state and public audits of these transactions mandatory.

Let us make elections transparent.

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