The Rs. 16 lakh election expenditure limit for assembly constituencies in major states is not enough, according to most stakeholders in the coming Uttar Pradesh elections.
The poll spend limit — raised by the Central government in February last year from Rs. 10 lakh, apparently on the recommendation of the Election Commission of India — doesn’t factor in ground reality and real-time economics, is the argument proffered.
Here is the mathematics of money management in campaigning, from MLAs, candidates and political workers.
“Usually, a candidate moves around with 100 supporters in a caravan of 10 MUVs (multi-utility vehicles) or SUVs (sport utility vehicles). Then, there are around 200-250 workers. Even if we spend around Rs. 20 per person, a day’s expense comes to around Rs. 5,000,” says a sitting MLA from western UP.
The actual spending reaches around Rs. 1.5-2 lakh for lunch and an additional Rs. 3-4 lakh for the day, the leader adds.
Commuting entails big expenditure. On an average, a vehicle on campaign trail covers at least 50-75 km a day.
“Since every leader has a convoy of at least 10 four-wheelers (permissible under the code of conduct), the diesel consumption is likely to be around 10 litres, which works out to Rs. 3,400 a day or Rs. 1.02 lakh a month,” says Rajiv Arora of Rayhan Travel Pvt Ltd.
Arora says the industry rate for an MUV (Bolero or Sumo) during poll season is Rs. 30,000 per month, including the driver and minus the fuel.
Nomination day costs a candidate Rs. 1.5-2 lakh. Moreover, every candidate has to set up a camp office and other offices at local level. The average expense on these offices is around Rs. 5,000 a day.
While the expenses mentioned above are a must, hosting star campaigners requires Rs. 5-10 lakh, says a poll manager.
Though this expense is not included in a candidate’s account, but in the party’s, the candidate pays his part.
On polling day, setting up voter guiding kiosks with provision for chai-pani (entertainment) is mandatory.
To stay within limits, candidates are changing campaigning mode.
“I am moving in my Innova car with just two vehicles. No hoardings and posters have been put up and we have taken to door-to-door campaign, mostly on foot. The supporters have been asked to have food at home. It’s tough to fight election with this amount but since it’s an order we have to abide by it,” says Congress leader and Mathura MLA Pradeep Mathur.
Samajwadi Party spokesperson Rajendra Chowdhary says party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav has told candidates to budget their expense. The party has also published a booklet of dos and don'ts.
The SP candidate from Lucknow West, Juhi Singh, elaborates. “Now the expense on poster, banners, hoarding, mass media and large public meeting is not happening.”
BJP has given Rs. 2 lakh each from the party fund to its candidates, says ex-MP and party spokesperson Satyadev Singh. “Rs 16 lakh is a big amount if someone wants to fight fair election.”
Shiromani Akali Dal president and Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal describes the Rs. 16 lakh expenditure limit as ridiculously low and says it should be raised to Rs. 50 lakh.
“The cap on expenditure is not reasonable at all… I don’t want to say anything on how candidates manage their campaign within the meagre expenditure limit.”