Civil Society, Indian Elections and Democracy Today
This paper by Trilochan Sastry, founder chairman of the Delhi-based Association for Democratic Reforms, explores the influence of wealth and crime in elections. It also examines the extent to which civil society/people's groups have brought accountability into the electoral process by promoting transparency and voter awareness.
The paper analyses election trends since Independence, election-related data from 2004 to 2013, and also the results of the 2014 elections. More specifically, it analyses over 70,000 Election Commission records of all the candidates who contested national or state elections between 2004 and 2014. From this analysis, the author concludes that wealthier candidates have a considerably higher chance of winning elections as do those with serious criminal cases pending against them.
In 2008, the Central Information Commission (CIC) declared that political parties are ‘public authorities’ under the Right to Information Act, 2005. This declaration strengthened an earlier CIC ruling that said the income tax returns of all political parties would be made public. The 2008 ruling led to enhanced scrutiny of political party finances as well as an Election Commission (EC) initiative asking the Central Board of Direct Taxes to cancel the tax exemptions of 10 parties that had not filed their tax returns.
In 2001, the Supreme Court (SC) ruled that conviction by a lower court was enough to disqualify candidates from contesting elections, unless the court’s judgement was overruled by a higher court.
In 2013, the SC directed the EC to take legal action against the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress for accepting foreign donations—this was illegal but carried no penalty. In 2014, the SC also empowered the EC to take action in cases in which false election expenses had been filed.
The year 2014 witnessed a steep rise in the number of political parties contesting the Lok Sabha elections. In 2014, there were over 475 political parties competing for 543 seats as compared to 392 parties for the same number of seats in 2009. Public dissatisfaction was largely cited as the reason for this growth, followed closely by the misuse of these new political parties as ‘tax shelters’.
The rise in the number of political parties enables candidates to win with a lower vote share. This allows candidates with greater money power to influence or buy a small proportion of votes in order to win. This then affects the total vote share of the ruling alliance, the vote share of Members of Parliament (MPs), the vote share of the ruling alliance MPs, and the number of voters an average MP represents.
Since the 1950s, there has been a drastic increase in election expenditure. The revenue expenditure in the early 1950s was between Rs. 400 and Rs. 500 crores a year. In 2014, the revenue expenditure budget was over Rs.17.63 lakh crores – an increase of over 3,900 times.
11,030 or 18 per cent of the 62,847 candidates for the state assemblies, the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha between 2004 and 2013, had pending criminal cases against them. 28.4 per cent of the total number of elected candidates in the same period had criminal cases against them.
On average, 12 per cent of all candidates with a clean criminal record won seats in elections between 2004 and 2013, while 23 per cent of all candidates with some kind of criminal record and 23 per cent of all candidates with serious criminal charges against them (bribing voters, incurring losses to the exchequer, murder, kidnapping, rape, crimes against women and so on) won seats.
The average value of assets per contesting candidate between 2004 and 2013 was Rs. 1.37 crores, while that of candidates who won first place was Rs. 3.8 crores, candidates who came in second was Rs. 2.47 crores, and candidates at the third place was Rs. 2.03 crores. Based on this data, the author concludes that wealthier candidates had a higher chance of winning elections.
Additionally, winning candidates with some kind of criminal record had assets worth, on average, Rs. 4.27 crores and those with serious criminal charges had assets worth Rs. 4.38 crores.
The 2014 Lok Sabha elections saw a single party (the Bharatiya Janata Party) win over 50 per cent of seats for the first time in 30 years. Among the elected candidates, only 5 per cent had a clean criminal record, 13 per cent had some kind of criminal record, and 12.5 per cent had serious criminal charges against them.
Focus and Factoids by Mridhula Murali and Ankitha Rao.
Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, Bengaluru