Rs 100 crore. That is the estimated turnover in the soon to be held Mumbai civic polls.
As the poll campaign gains momentum, money will exchange hands freely: from candidates to local youth clubs, from party workers towards campaign paraphernalia and to slumdwellers for their votes.
Even with the Election Commission’s ear to the ground, a majority of this business will be clandestine and will go unaccounted.
“We estimate that a political party candidate must be spending around Rs 10 lakh to Rs 20 lakh per ward,” said Sharad Kumar, trustee and convener of Action for Good Governance and Networking in India (AGNI).
Kumar said the elections are a clear “business proposition”.
“Candidates who pour money into elections expect returns once they get elected for five years. In turn, we may have to suffer bad roads and poor civic amenities.”
Political parties admit that the spending power of candidates is an important factor while granting tickets. “The system is such that candidates who are willing to throw money manage to win elections. The sponsors — builders, businessmen — do expect goodwill and favours from the candidate once he attains power,” said a Congress functionary, who did not want to be named.
Unexpectedly, criticism of the electoral process comes from none other than Shiv Sena supremo, Bal Thackeray. In an interview published in party mouthpiece Saamna on Friday, Thackeray said there is rampant corruption during elections and this is the main cause of decay in our system.
The good news. This year, the State Election Commission has decided to curb expenditure of political parties. Each candidate can spend not more than Rs 1 lakh. This means a definite no to over-the-top ad campaigns and open rallies unless the party can show these expenses as part of their candidates.
“There are two types of election expenditure — on record and off the record. For instance, money distributed to voters will never come up for inspection but it can be registered as an electoral offence by our staff,” admitted UPS Madan, Chief Electoral Officer and representative of the Election Commission of India.
Madan insists that the commission keeps the “on record expenditure” as reasonable as possible in all elections.