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Mainstream, VOL52, No. 22, May 24, 2014

Elections Give BJP Historic Victory, But Some Disturbing Trends Can’t Be Ignored

Friday 23 May 2014, by Bharat Dogra

There is a healthy tradition in democracy of respecting the people’s verdict in elections no matter how troubling this may be in some contexts. This tradition must be certainly followed after the recent historic general elections in India, particularly when the victory of the BJP/NDA is so huge that it could not have been possible without securng the enthusiastic support of the masses, particularly the youth, over vast areas. This also implies a huge personal triumph for Narendra Modi who, over a period of nine months, travelled 300,000 kms. to attend 5187 events and address 477 rallies.

Having said this, however, it should be emphasised that several disturbing aspects of the recent elections cannot be ignored. These need to be discussed in detail as a first step for taking remedial steps to check these disturbing trends.

The success of the Modi-led campaign of the BJP in convincing or even inspiring crores of people is now well established. The detailed planning and metriculous implementation of this campaign have been admired by many people. But let’s not forget to ask a basic question in the interest of democracy: what are the chances of the success of a campaign based on socialist ideas even if the campaign was led by equally or even more capable and dedicated activists? It is unlikely that such an equally efficient campaign would have achieved the same success due to the simple reason that even a fraction of the massive funds available to the BJP cannot be available for any socialist cause.

Another, even more basic, question that we need to ask is: was the BJP campaign truthful? Were the various claims made about the ‘Modi model’ rooted in reality? What were the tactics used to draw attention away from troubling questions such as those relating to the most cruel violence of 2002? In other words, is it true that the availability of massive funds was used in such a way that disturbing facts could be brushed aside while some massive myths could be spread in a big way?

Of course, give the BJP and Sangh Parivar managers the credit for their success in identifying with the aspirations of the people, particularly the youth emerging from humble background and yearning for a wider role. By all means give credit where it is due for imparting new strength to the BJP in areas where it did not have a major presence earlier. But does this mean that we should ignore the many troubling statements that were made by the BJP leaders to create divisions among the people and to increase the vulnerability of those people who are already in a precarious situation.

So while giving all respect to the verdict of people and acknowledging the hard and meticulous work put in by its cadres, in the wider interest of democracy, we should also draw attention to the several trou-bling aspects of this massive achievement of the BJP.

A very important aspect of the 2014 general elections has been the enormous role of money power to the extent that it has become a very serious threat to democracy. True, these trends of ever-increasing role of money were noticed in all recent elections. But in the 2014 general elections we may have arrived at the critical stage where democratic processes and aspirations can get overpowered by massive as well as cleverly calculated use of money power.

A leading Hindi newspaper, the Navbharat Times (from The Times of India group), published a special report on the funding of elections (May 8). This report said that election expenses have been increased rapidly from Rs 2500 crores in 1996 to well over Rs 30,000 crores in 2014, or Rs 50 to 55 crores per Lok Sabha seat. This massive increase of election expenses has been met most prominently by corporate sources, this report said, with mining interests in the first row. Most big corporates now keep a separate election fund, the report said. Elections are also fed by lots of black money and hawala transactions. In Andhra Pradesh about Rs 120 crores worth of cash was seized by the Election Commission, followed by significant seizures in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere.

Another curious aspect to which this report drew attention was that the expenses of the BJP were about 75 per cent higher than those of the Congress. Normally it is the ruling party which is considered to have the highest capacity to raise funds, but in the recent election, it was the main Opposition party which was able to generate much larger funds, as was evident also from the more obvious spending patterns such as those relating to media advertising. In print as well as electronic media, advertisement space was grabbed on a massive scale by the BJP. The media has grown rapidly and now its influence in even interior areas is well established. In the urban areas its influence can be very domina-ting. The BJP and its friends were able to use this media space to their advantage to an unprecedented extent in legal and illegal, ethical and unethical ways. In a detailed analysis, media analyst Amit Chamadia pointed to several instances of violation of election rules (Jansatta, May 10).

India Today (May 19) pointed out that over the last nine months, Modi has travelled 300,000 kms or seven times the earth’s equatorial circumference (we may add., almost entirely in airplanes and helicopters). He attended 5187 events and addressed 477 rallies. Using internet and mobile telephony he connected with an estimated 230 million people.

To summarise,

• In terms of the ratio of election expenses to GNP, India’s 2014 general election was by far the most expensive election in the world, far surpassing the US presidential election.

• Corporate sources contributed the bulk of these funds.

• Most of these funds went to the main Opposition party (BJP) while the Congress was a somewhat distant second.

Now it is well known that the Congress and UPA followed a neo-liberal economic model which gave very high concessions to the big corporates including multinational companies. If however the big corporates have been very willing to prefer the Modi-led BJP heavily over the Congress, clearly they have calculated to benefit much more than before. To what extent their calculations will be realised and at what cost to the people and environment will be seen in the coming days, but meanwhile what we need to examine very seriously is the extent to which the electoral process is being stifled by the excessive weight of money power.

Attention has been drawn to this and related threats to democracy in several contexts. It is very important that all the receipts and also the expenses of political parties should be accounted for, and not just the election expenses of candidates. Any expense or receipt that is left out of the account books should be treated as corruption. There should be no loopholes in the forms of smaller transactions being kept out. In addition, of course, political parties should be covered by the RTI.

What is most disturbing is that while increasing concern is being expressed year after year about the shifting and overbearing role of money power in elections, in reality this trend has been worsening. Similarly while increasing concern has been voiced over criminalisation of politics, the actual situation even in this context may be worsening.

As The Times of India reported recently (May 10), “According to data analysed by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) from the self-sworn affidavits filed by candidates with the Election Commission, 1398 (17 per cent) candidates have declared criminal cases against themselves, up from 15 per cent of the candidates faced with criminal cases in 2009.

“Worryingly, there are 889 (11 per cent) candidates with serious criminal cases, including those related to murder, attempt to murder, communal disharmony, kidnapping and crimes against women in this election, an increase from the 608 (eight per cent) candidates in 2009.”

Bharat Dogra is a free-lance journalist who has been involved with several social initiatives and movements.