With the polls around the corner, questions about the unholy nexus among money, criminals and elections are once again being raised. One way to clean up the process could be the State funding of elections. But while that may level the playing field and help a few deserving candidates, the problem is where will the state get the money? Nobody wants to raise taxes. We like clean elections, but we don’t want to pay for them.
Thankfully, I have a simple scheme that will not only solve the whole problem of election funding but will also ensure that we have a 100 per cent voter turnout.
How can the public be persuaded to part with money to set up a fund for fighting elections? Obviously they will only cough up the cash if they can get something in return. Why, for instance, do hordes of people turn up at the race course every weekend and part with large sums of money? Because they believe they have a sporting chance of getting a return on their investment.
And in the process, they also contribute to the upkeep of the race course. I know, because I used to donate a substantial part of my salary to the Royal Calcutta Turf Club in my heydays. So all that we have to do is to replicate the race course business model for elections and voila, the election funding issue is solved.
One of the ways you can bet at the races is on the tote — short for totalisator. Here’s how it works. Suppose there are five horses in a race. Let’s say you bet Rs 100 on Horse Number 3, because you know its owner has come to the races wearing a three-piece suit, which means he wants to be photographed with the winning horse and the trophy. The horse is also running in the third lane, which, combined with the fact that it is running in the third race, makes winning almost a sure thing.
But I digress. Let’s get back to the math. Say 99 other savvy punters also bet Rs 100 each on Horse Number 3. Let’s assume that the total money bet is Rs 1 lakh. If Horse Number 3 wins, this total amount could be divided as follows: 30 per cent or Rs 30,000 to the government for taxes, 10 per cent or Rs 10,000 to the race course authorities and 60 per cent or Rs 60,000 to the 100 winning tickets. So you get Rs 600 for your Rs 100 bet.
Now extend this model to the elections. Every constituency could put up a list of candidates and ask the voters to bet on them. The Election Commission can then set aside a small percentage, say 10 per cent of the total kitty for an election fund, while the remaining 90 per cent will be paid out to those who bet on the winning candidate. Betting tickets could be sold from every post office and bank in the country. The amount of bets on each candidate could be broadcast daily on TV, allowing voters to judge the odds.
Apart from bets on the winning horse… er… candidate, we could also have bets on the runner-up. We could even have a jackpot, where voters correctly predict the winners in five contests. Bets could be for the largest party, the winning alliance, the choice of prime minister — the possibilities are endless. Forget election funding, the money could easily cover the entire fiscal deficit.
That’s not all. People will start taking a keen interest in the political process, attending every political meeting zealously, weighing the chances of the rival candidates, studying their form and attempting to sway others to vote for the candidate of their choice.
On election day, there will be long queues of voters, all of them eager to put their votes where their money is. Indian democracy will not only be truly participatory, it will also be great fun. In fact, it’s likely to be such a big hit we’ll be clamouring for elections every quarter.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint.