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HindustanTimes Thu,18 Sep 2014

Cong 'out-funded' by BJP, says Ramesh; seeks audit of parties

PTI  New Delhi, May 13, 2014
First Published: 21:26 IST(13/5/2014) | Last Updated: 01:24 IST(14/5/2014)

After the conclusion of what hetermed was a "difficult campaign" for the party, Congress leader Jairam Ramesh on Tuesday said they were "out-funded" by BJP in the wake of the publicity blitzkrieg by Narendra Modi for the Lok Sabha polls.

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While Modi's campaign spending had reached an "obscene level" the Congress's expenditure had been mere "peanuts" in comparison, claimed Ramesh, a key strategist of the party.

Ramesh also demanded a "serious expenditure audit" of the money spent by parties in the just-concluded polls.

"This has been a difficult campaign because the Congress has been out-funded by BJP," Ramesh said in New Delhi.

"The amount of money that the BJP's prime ministerial candidate (Modi) has spent is astronomical... I think obscene levels of funding. But clearly our level of spending was peanuts compared to what Mr Modi was able to raise," he added.

Congress leaders like Kapil Sibal and Anand Sharma have alleged that BJP spent between Rs. 5,000 crore to Rs. 10,000 crore on its high-decibel campaign, which was unprecedented in the history of Indian elections.

In an interaction with mediapersons at the Indian Women's Press Corps in New Delhi, Ramesh also came out with a proposal to check overspending during poll campaigning and suggested abolition of the MP-LAD scheme and using the money to state- fund elections.

A whopping Rs. 30,000 crore is estimated to have been spent cumulatively by the government, political parties and candidates in the nine-phased polls which started on April 7 and concluded on May 12.

Referring to the BJP's publicity drive in the print media, Ramesh said that "front page ads in newspapers" given by Modi "will tell you the story -- the amount of money that has been spent".

"Taking a frontpage ad in newspapers is not cheap. Congress didn't take out even one full frontpage ad," he said.

Ramesh, who was Congress's chief campaigner in Seemandhra and Telangana regions of Andhra Pradesh, said he was "appalled" by the level of spending by candidates belonging to all political parties for Assembly and Lok Sabha polls in that state.

"I was apalled. Crores were spent in Assembly seats, in Parliament seats, (by all) political parties. In the circumstances, only big contractors and real estate developers can contest elections," he said.

The Rural Development Minister said that all parties should reach a consensus on electoral reforms.

"If you are asking me that there should be a serious expenditure audit, (then) I agree with you.

"There must be realistic expenditure norms, there must be a genuine expenditure audit. Because with the level of funding we are seeing, it is another threat to Indian democracy," he said.

Asked about Priyanka Gandhi's campaign in the Gandhi family pocket boroughs of Rae Bareli and Amethi, Ramesh said, "She (Priyanka) was the sounding board for the Congress leadership and organisation.

"She was a source of ideas. She was not a campaigner... Ultimately what counts in politics is the public role and her public role was the same as in 2004 and 2009." Dismissing exit poll predictions that Congress is facing the biggest poll defeat in its history, he said the party would do well and "the hype over BJP will be proved wrong".

Exit polls have predicted that the BJP-led NDA would form the next government at the Centre and the Congress-led UPA will get less than 140 seats.


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