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In Gujarat assembly election, voters preferred wealthy candidates over less wealthy ones

Gujarati voters were more likely to choose wealthy candidate over less wealthy ones, an analysis of candidate disclosure documents and Monday’s poll returns from the state’s assembly election shows.

india Updated: Dec 21, 2017 23:56 IST
Harry Stevens
Harry Stevens
Harry Stevens, Hindustan Times
Gujarat assembly election,gujarat election results,candidate profile

Gujarati voters were more likely to choose wealthy candidates over less wealthy ones, an analysis of candidate disclosure documents and Monday’s poll returns from the state’s assembly election shows.

In 75 of the state’s 182 constituencies, voters chose the wealthiest available candidate. That’s about 41% of the time. Second wealthiest candidates won about 38% of the time, while third wealthiest candidates won about 12% of the time. Fourth wealthiest candidates and below won slightly less than 2% of the seats in which they contested.

“This is a fact that richer candidates have a better chance of winning than less rich candidates,” said Jagdeep Chhokar, founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms, an election watchdog group. “People who are not very well off, who are not very rich, stand very little chance of winning or being elected.”

There is no minimum wealth requirement to compete in India’s democratic elections. In Gujarat, 35 candidates were in debt and another 190 owned less than Rs 1 lakh in assets. None of them won.

Of the 373 crorepatis, on the other hand, 136, or about 36%, won. Candidates worth at least Rs 50 lakh but less than Rs 1 crore won 13.13% of the time, while candidates worth at least Rs 1 lakh and less than Rs 50 lakh won just 1.94% of the time.

In the five state assembly elections that took place in March, the link between candidate wealth and electoral success was nearly as strong. In the nearly 700 constituencies contested in Goa, Manipur, Punjab, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh, the wealthiest candidate won 33.5% of the time, compared to just 24.6% for the second wealthiest candidate and 17% for the third wealthiest.

Voters often see candidates’ wealth as a proxy for their ability to deliver public services, said Neelanjan Sircar, a political scientist at the Centre for Policy Research who studies the effects of candidate wealth in India’s elections.

“Part of the reason why money matters so much is that the ability to spend money demonstrates a capacity to make it rain when matters,” Sircar said.

Candidates who are able to outspend their opponents also have an easier time convincing major parties to give them tickets, which further improves their electoral prospects.

In Gujarat, for example, the median wealth of the candidates nominated by the BJP and Congress was about Rs 2.5 crore and about Rs 1.6 crore, respectively. Of the candidates not nominated by one of those two parties, the median wealth was just less than Rs 7 lakh.

“This is not good for democracy,” Chhokar said of the advantage wealthy candidates enjoy over less wealthy competitors. “It does not allow for what, in clichéd terms, is called a level playing field.”

First Published: Dec 21, 2017 19:04 IST