Why are elections expensive in India?

11 Oct 2023  Read 1266 Views

Elections in India, a vibrant democracy with a massive population, are a grand celebration of the people's voice. Running elections involves various expensive tasks, like organizing polling stations, printing ballots, deploying security, conducting voter education, and running political campaigns. In 2019, the Lok Sabha elections topped the list as the world's costliest, with a whopping $8 billion spent. 

This shows how much India values its democracy and underlines a big rise in election expenses over the last twenty years, highlighting the passion and importance of elections in the country.

People say that elections in India are getting even more costly with each new election. Some people even wonder if politicians are giving out money to get votes, which they call "vote-buying." But we don't really know for sure where all this money is going during campaigns because we don't have all the data.

However, understanding how these campaigns work is essential for exams, as it gives us insights into what it really costs to run elections in India. So, let's get started.

Where does the money go?

If political workers are asked how much money is spent in elections. Then their reply will possibly include the money that's officially reported along with the hidden, illegal expenses like bribes. So, if we deduce that bribe is the reason due to which elections are getting expensive. Then, we have an answer that why elections are expensive in India. However, this is not conclusive, it’s just a speculation. There are many more possible answers which can help us understand what's really driving up the cost of elections. Let's take an example:

  • In the 2014 general elections and state assembly polls, the BJP and Congress were big spenders, with the BJP spending over Rs 714 crore, and the Congress spending Rs 516 crore. According to the 2015 data from the Election Commission, their spending far exceeded that of other recognized national parties like NCP, which spent over Rs 51 crore, and BSP, with more than Rs 30 crore in expenses.
  • This led to showcause notices from the EC. So, it is pretty much clear that during the elections the reported expenses are just a tiny fraction of what's really spent, often less than 1/30th or 1/50th of the actual amount.
  • The hidden expenses include giving gifts to voters and local influencers, suggesting that bribing voters is a common practice in Indian elections.

However, let's not ignore these points as well that also explains why elections in India are expensive.

India's Enormous Democracy pose challenges

India's democracy is a colossal undertaking due to its vast and diverse population, with over 1.3 billion citizens. This massive scale demands an extensive network of polling stations, election staff, and security forces. Additionally, creating the necessary infrastructure in remote areas adds to the considerable costs. This includes establishing or enhancing facilities for the smooth conduct of elections, a monumental task that requires substantial resources.

Can alcohol or goats help win votes?

In India, where over 8,000 candidates compete for around 545 seats, winning votes can be challenging. Secret ballots ensure that bribery alone won't guarantee votes. Instead, politicians often resort to gift-giving (government freebies), including cash, alcohol, and even goats, to show their influence. In one of the surveys, it was revealed that more than 90% of federal-level politicians feel the pressure to distribute these gifts. While there are legal expenditure caps for candidates, parties can spend freely, and much of this spending remains undisclosed. In 2023 also, India grapples with the complex interplay of democracy, gift politics, and undisclosed election expenditures.

Rallying the folks with chicken curry

Politicians in India sure love their rallies, but putting on a show can get pricey! They travel all over, rallying people under big tents, and sometimes, they even need to serve fancy food like biryani and chicken curry, which isn't cheap for regular folks. Add in expenses for fireworks, chairs, microphones, security, and transportation, and we got a costly campaign. As of 2023, India continues its political rally tradition, mixing grand speeches with delicious treats and logistics that stretch campaign budgets.

Election challenges beyond scale

Elections in India pose immense financial challenges, primarily due to the country's vast size, diverse population, and the need for extensive security, technology, and logistics. Ensuring the safety of voters, adopting technology, tackling complex logistics, and funding extensive political campaigns all contribute to the high costs associated with India's democratic process.

Dummy candidates

In India's election system, beware of "dummy candidates" with the same name as frontrunners, a tactic to confuse voters and divide the support. This trick is especially handy in states like Uttar Pradesh, where a name can signify a candidate's caste or clan. Even famous figures, like actress Hema Malini in 2014, have faced doppelgängers. This strategy isn't cheap; it can cost as much as 120 million rupees, as revealed by India Today in 2016. Parties also field multiple candidates to sidestep spending limits, with the most popular one receiving the lion's share of resources. As of 2023, India's electoral structure still plays this name game, mixing tactics and expenses.

Brand building

In the 2019 polls, a whopping 26 billion rupees was set to be spent on advertising, as per Zenith India. So, this time India witnessed over 40 million rupees go into political ads on Facebook. And don't forget those catchy "Namo Again" (Narendra Modi Again) T-shirts sold by his campaign. As of 2023, India's elections are amping up the ad game, with social media and merchandise playing a significant role. This was more than double what the Election Commission estimated the two main parties spent in 2014 (as discussed above).

Financial demands of India's electoral System

India's election process is financially demanding due to its regulatory framework, which is overseen by the Election Commission. It requires resources for ensuring fairness and transparency. Additionally, counting votes in such a populous country is a resource-intensive task. India's unique social, economic, and cultural diversity poses specific challenges, further emphasizing the need for increased resources to conduct elections smoothly.

Installation of polling stations

In India's election history, political parties spend big, but the Election Commission also faces hefty bills. The Commission tackles logistical challenges, like polling stations to be placed high in the Himalayas or serving a lone hermit deep in the jungle. In 2023, the Centre's expenditure is around 340 crores.

Can we file RTI to know how much money is spent on elections in India?

Yes, we can file a Right to Information (RTI) request to obtain information about the expenses and money spent on elections in India. The Right to Information Act, 2005 allows citizens to seek information from public authorities, including government departments and agencies, about various matters, subject to certain exceptions and conditions.

About the Author: Kakoli Nath | 269 Post(s)

Kakoli Nath is a legal Content Manager at Finology Legal who pursued BBA.LL.B (5 years integrated course). She is a patent analyst & had also done advanced certification in Forensics Psychology and Criminal Profiling from IFS, Pune.

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