Consensus eludes parties on state funding of polls
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Consensus eludes parties on state funding of polls

India's political parties on Wednesday agreed on state funding of polls, but there was no consensus on how to go about it.

india Updated: Feb 16, 2006 03:09 IST

India's political parties on Wednesday agreed on state funding of polls, but there was no consensus on how to go about it.

At a meeting convened by the Election Commission to discuss the state funding of polls, the ruling Congress insisted the expenditure incurred on candidates by political parties - mainly for publicity materials - should not be included in the ceiling of Rs 2.5 million for spending by MPs and Rs 1 million for legislators.

But the main Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Left parties opposed the suggestion.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) went to the extent of saying that the suggestions made by the government have made a "mockery of the proposals put forward by a committee headed by former Home Minister Indrajit Gupta on state funding of polls".

The meeting was convened to discuss the Cabinet's proposal for state funding of polls to curb corruption and the use of "money power" by political parties during elections. Leaders of 34 political parties attended it.

The Cabinet had earlier requested the poll panel to frame guidelines and prepare a final draft to be presented to Parliament.

"Congress has supported the state funding. It endorsed the government's suggestions. But we want the state funding should be through the political parties," Congress leader Abhishek Singhvi told reporters after the meeting.

However, BJP leader VK Malhotra argued for a level-playing field.

"There should be legal nod to the code of conduct. Candidates should not be allowed to put huge hoardings and banners across their constituencies," Malhotra said.

The Left, Nationalist Congress Party - an ally in the Congress-led ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) - and Shiromani Akali Dal also disagreed with the Congress's suggestion saying if it was implemented, the objective of keeping money power and muscle power at bay would not be achieved.

"The proposal means the state funding would just be subsidy for the rich parties," said MP Nilotpal Basu of CPI-M.

While CPI-M opposed most of the proposals by the government, other Left parties like Communist Party of India, Revolutionary Socialist Party and Forward Bloc, agreed with the government's suggestions in principle.

However, Chief Election Commissioner BB Tandon claimed a near consensus was reached on two broad aspects - on enforcing the ceiling on expenditure and restricting expenditure by political parties.

"Most of the parties that attended today's meeting came out in support of state funding of polls," Tandon said.

There were, however, some major opponents of the concept too.

The AIADMK, for instance, was of the view that there were more pressing concerns like poverty alleviation that needed to be addressed first.

"The parties have now been given a week to submit their suggestions in writing, after which we will see how we can move ahead," Tandon said.

The poll panel is expected to prepare a report about its proposals on the basis of Wednesday's meeting and send it to the parties. It will then incorporate suggestions from them if there are any and submit the report to the Cabinet.

The Cabinet has recommended that all recognised political parties should be given suitable rent-free accommodation for their headquarters, one rent-free telephone with STD facility with a specified number of telephone calls over and above the free calls permitted to any subscriber.

The parties would also have to decide on the amount of time to be distributed to them on private cable TV networks and electronic media.

At the meeting, political parties suggested various ways, including the organisation of "meet the candidate programmes" across the constituency by the Election Commission, to avoid expenses on travelling.

First Published: Feb 15, 2006 23:41 IST