[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) collected the highest funds and spent maximum money in campaigning during the 2014 assembly polls in Haryana and Maharashtra, according to a report compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an NGO working in the field of electoral reforms in the country.
The report was released at a function jointly organized by ADR with National Election Watch in New Delhi on Thursday, October 10, 2019, ahead of the state elections in Maharashtra and Haryana scheduled to be held on October 21 this year.
In its report, ADR analyzed six national parties and nine regional parties and studied their information on election-related expenditures.
The report revealed that the total fund collected by the 15 political parties during the Maharashtra and the Haryana assembly election in 2014 was Rs 464.55 crore and the total expenditure incurred was Rs 357.12 crore. Out of this total expenditure, political parties spent Rs 280.72 crore just on publicity.
As per the report, BJP collected maximum funds of Rs 296.74 crore followed by the Indian National Congress (INC) which collected Rs 84.37 crore and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) which collected Rs 38.10 crore.
BJP spent the highest funds of Rs 226.82 crore, followed by INC which spent Rs 63.81 crore and NCP which spent Rs 35.56 crore.
As per Election Commission’s rules, political parties are required to submit their statement of election expenditure within 75 days of completion of elections. However, as per the ADR report, as many as 14 political parties failed to submit their expenditure statements for Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly Election 2014 on time.
Crime & money: ‘Indomitable winners’
According to ADR report on 2019 general elections, out of the 539 winners of the general election 2019, 233 have declared criminal cases against them and 159 winners out of these had declared serious criminal cases including cases related to rape, murder, attempt to murder, kidnapping and crimes against women. The 2019 report also said that out of the 539 winners of the general election 2019, 475 are millionaires.
Speaking on the use of money and muscle power in Indian elections, former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi said, “in the last two decades, the elections have become a level playing field for those with money and muscle power”.
He said that “despite the continuous hard work of civil societies, judiciary, and ECI this is increasing”.
Senior journalist Maneesh Chibber contended that “the trend of muscle and money power use in Indian electoral politics can only be reversed if transparency is brought in the appointment of election commissioners, ECI is empowered and the judicial system works proactively and transparently.”
A founder member of ADR, Prof Jagdeep Chhoker advocated for introducing and ensuring internal democracy in political parties besides financial transparency. “But the question remained as to how this can be achieved,” he wondered.
Prof Chhoker asserted that “civil societies, judiciary, and media have to work in tandem to achieve this goal”.
Social media influence
Apprehending that recent elections were influenced by social media, former Chief Election Commissioner Dr Nasim Zaidi said that “the role of social media in influencing the elections came in light with Cambridge Analytics”.
Referring to Omidyar Group report on how social media is a threat to democracy, Dr Zaidi asserted that “there is need for checking spread of false or misleading information, conversion of popularity into legitimacy, manipulation by ‘populist’ leaders, governments, and fringe actors, personal data capture and targeted messaging/advertising and disruption of the public discourse.”
Dr Zaidi also contended that the ECI is not equipped with the general framework to deal with the issues coming up with the social media platforms.
He added, “at present, there is no data if our election was ever influenced by any other country and there is also no data as to how much misinformation or hate content is taken down by the social media platforms as per the current ECI guidelines.”
A data analyst Shivam Shankar Singh said that the use of social media platforms for political advertisements and campaigning started in the 2014 general election but the ECI came up with its regulation only in 2019.
He said the ECI started monitoring the election with the effect of the model code of conduct, however, these social media platform campaigns don’t start working a month before instead they are built on strategies planned years in advance.
On regulating the social media platforms, Shivam said it is important but it is also a very difficult area. “For regulation of social media, the government will have to bring a law to remove encryption and once the encryption is removed then the government has access to all details and it will lead to censorship”, said Shivam.
Senior journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, while speaking on the influence of social media in elections said that “ECI has all the knowledge of what is happening on social media platforms but they choose not to react to it”.
He further said that ECI constituted a committee to look into the menace of social media platforms. “The committee submitted its detailed report with recommendations, however, ECI instead of accepting these recommendations adopted a voluntary code of ethics for the 2019 General Election – a framework that was proposed by the social media platform representatives.”
“At present, there is no law to control and penalise spreading of misinformation and hate content on social media and there is no policy to regulate the misuse of data of social media platforms,” he said and added, “The only law to deal with the cyber issues is Information Technology Act, 2000 but it has so many problems and the Data Protection Bill is continuously delayed by the government due to lack of political will.”
Meanwhile, ADR has made the following recommendations in its report:
- All political parties should submit their statements of expenditure to the ECI within the prescribed time limit and those who fail to do so shall be penalized.
- Details of all donors who contribute to national and regional parties must be declared in the public domain irrespective of the amount donated.
- Donations report shall be submitted to the ECI on an annual basis to bring in more transparency in the finances of the political parties.
- The expenditure must be limited to transactions via cheque/DD/RTGS so as to reduce the use of black money in elections.
- ECImust appoint observers for monitoring the expenditure of political parties.