Congress spending caught up with BJP’s in last round of state polls
Expenditure details for the ongoing Parliamentary elections aren’t available, but those for the last round of assembly elections point to an interesting trend: the Congress’ spending was almost on par with the Bharatiya Janata Party’s.
The BJP’s victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections had a positive juggernaut effect on the party’s political fortunes. Until the last round of assembly elections in November 2018, the BJP and its allies were running state governments in 18 out of 29 states in the country, up from just six in May 2014. The BJP lost the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to the Congress in the last election cycle before the 2019 elections. Interestingly, the latest election victories for the Congress seem to have been accompanied by a turnaround in the party’s ability to match the BJP in election spending as well.
The BJP surged ahead of its competitors in the country post-2014 in political funding. By 2017-18 (latest available data) the BJP’s income had increased to Rs 1027 crore, 1.5 times of what it was in 2013-14, the year before it recaptured power after a decade at the centre. The Congress on the other hand experienced a sharp reduction in its income. Its reported income in 2017-18 was Rs 199 crore, just one-third of what it was in 2013-14. The BJP’s reported income was five times more than that of the Congress in 2017-18, the gap being the biggest since 2001-02. These comparisons are based on affidavits submitted to the Election Commission of India (ECI).
Having access to significantly more money than its competitors also allowed the BJP to outspend its opponents during the elections. An HT analysis of election expenditure affidavits submitted to the ECI shows that the BJP has spent Rs 1491.7 crore in assembly elections held after 2014 Lok Sabha elections. This figure is Rs 637 crore for the Congress. The election expenditure figures include spending on publicity, travel, lump sum amount paid to candidates and other miscellaneous expenditure.
In important elections where the BJP and the Congress were in a direct fight, the BJP-Congress spending gap was even bigger. For example, the BJP spent Rs 139 crore in the Karnataka elections, compared to just Rs 34.5 crore by the Congress.
Things seem to have changed in the last round of assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram. The Congress spent Rs 207 crore in these elections, almost on par with the Rs 233.5 crore figure for the BJP. To be sure, the BJP has not yet filed its affidavit for Mizoram.
While the headline expenditure numbers by the BJP and Congress are close, there is a different in terms of how the money was used. Rs 112 crore, which is more than half of the Congress’s total expenditure was given as lump sum payment to candidates. In absolute terms this was almost four times what the BJP gave to its candidates.
Analysis of candidate affidavits by political party and election watchdog Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) for the three Hindi belt states which went to poll in this election cycle show that the Congress had a lower share of candidates with assets worth more than Rs 1 crore than the BJP in the elections. The share of crorepati candidates from the Congress in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh was 78%, 77% and 73%. For the BJP these figures were 81%, 81% and 82%. This probably provides some context for Congress’s focus on giving higher lump sum payments to its candidates.
The BJP on the other hand spent twice of what the Congress did on publicity and travel expenses in these elections.
The category-wise classification of expenditure has been taken from a report released by ADR.
The ADR report also shows an interesting difference in how the two national parties raised funds. The BJP’s central headquarters raised Rs 342 crore, 1.8 times more than what the Congress’s central headquarters could collect. However, the state unit of the Congress in the three Hindi belt states collected Rs 131 crore, 2.5 times more than what the BJP’s respective state units collected.
“With the caveat that parties’ expenditure reports only contain details on official spending— we know a large quantum of funds is spent unofficially—there are three remarkable aspects of this recent ADR report.
First, there was a surprising degree of parity in terms of what the BJP and Congress collected during the five state assembly elections.
Second, actual expenditures also did not diverge as much as was commonly thought, given the BJP’s perceived fundraising advantage.
Third, the centralisation in the BJP’s financing is striking. The BJP’s central unit collected 87% of overall funds, compared to just 55% for the Congress. When it comes to spending, the BJP spent more through their state units, but the Congress passed down four times as much money directly into the hands of its candidates. The BJP’s biggest expense, on the other hand, was publicity, which certainly means the party brand would have been more visible. But whereas the BJP chose to promote the party, the INC emphasized its candidates,” said, Milan Vaishnav Director and Senior Fellow, South Asia Program Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.