Assembly elections: The cost of candidacy runs to Rs 5 crore!

Notwithstanding the Election Commission limit on expenditures of Rs 40 lakh per candidate, actual expenses for campaigning to constituents run into crores.

Even a 'special' garland such as this giant wreathing Lucknow mayor Shushma Kharkwal, held up by BJP workers here, has a price limit of Rs 175. Yet political candidacy is prohibitively expensive! (photo: Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
Even a 'special' garland such as this giant wreathing Lucknow mayor Shushma Kharkwal, held up by BJP workers here, has a price limit of Rs 175. Yet political candidacy is prohibitively expensive! (photo: Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Prakash Bhandari

Over 1,800 candidates in the Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha elections have been instructed by the state election commission to maintain an account of expenditures incurred by them.

The state election commission is, of course, only issuing instructions to the candidates per the norms framed by the national Election Commission. Section 77(1) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, makes it mandatory for every candidate to the House of the People or to a state Legislative Assembly, to keep a separate and correct account of all expenditure incurred.

For Rajasthan, the Election Commission has fixed an expenditure of Rs 40 lakh per constituency and per candidate for the Assembly elections.

The state election commission has also fixed rates for several items that are normally used during elections for both the Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha.

Budgetary limits have been defined for refreshments to be given to  party workers during the campaigning, the costs of banners and posters, bouquets and garlands, and expenses incurred for meetings and rallies such as various transport services, amplifiers, drummers, mikes and public address systems.

Interestingly, the tea to be served to party workers should not cost more than Rs 5 a cup. Similarly, the expenditure limit for coffee is Rs 20, and snacks such as samosas and kachoris may cost no more than Rs 10 each, jalebis Rs 140 per kilo.

The state election commission has even fixed the prices of food packets for two different categories. The first category of food packet has four pooris, a vegetable, pickle and a sweet, and should not cost more than Rs 60. The second category, holdng five pooris, two vegetables and a sweet, should have a maximum price limit of Rs 100 per packet.

The  state election commission has also fixed prices for sweets that may be be gifted or distributed during campaigning. Gulab jamun cannot exceed the rate of Rs 200 per kilo, laddoos are limited at Rs 140 per kilo, and barfis to Rs 250.

“The prices fixed by the state election commission are very low," said Mohan Lal Bagra, a BJP worker in the Adarsh Nagar constituency of Jaipur. "The prices have been fixed for all the constituencies separately—urban, semi-urban and rural—where the cost of tea, coffee, sweets and food packet vary.

"Its far more in the urban areas than in rural areas. In Jaipur, a cup of tea would cost Rs 10 and coffee Rs 20, and the food packet costs 25 to 30 per cent more than the rates fixed by the election department. Thus all the candidates, rather than  producing actual bills, submit a manipulated bill for the expenses which is in accordance with the price directives issued,” Bagra disclosed.

The state election commission has not undertaken a market survey for the expenses incurred in purchasing banners and posters, cutouts, garlands, public address systems, drummers, wooden platforms and dhurries for hire, etc, Bagra alleged.

According to the rates fixed by the state election commission:

  • a poster should not cost more Rs 3.50

  • a banner should cost no more than Rs 5,

  • cut-out must not cost more than Rs 15

  • ordinary garlands should be bought within Rs 10–20,

  • 'special' garlands cannot be more than Rs 175

  • and bouquets can be purchased for up to Rs 120 each.

“These items are in high use during the elections, and the cost of these items goes up each day and touches a high a day before the election," said Surya Pratap Singh, a Congress worker in the Civil Lines constituency of Jaipur. "Thus the candidate has to pay almost 50 per cent more than the normal days in the run-up to the elections, and 100 per cent more at the peak of campaigning. Yet, while submitting an account, we have to submit the price as directed by the state commission.”  

The costs of hiring a public address system and vehicles during the election system are the highest expenses, said Singh. Candidates are paying Rs 5,500 or so to rent a public address system—which is almost double the maximum rate fixed by the state election commission.

The state election commission does not seem to have carried out a market survey before fixing the rates for various rental vehicles like buses, taxis, trucks, tractors, etc, either. The prices fixed by the department are far lower than the market rates, and an election candidate has to incur double the usual market rate tyically.

“We have to sit for hours together to prepare accounts for the daily expenses and a team specially undertakes this job of collecting bills. Obviously all these bills are manipulated," admitted a worker of  Malviya Nagar constituency of Jaipur, Naresh Jain.

"We do not submit the petrol and diesel bills as the prices are known to all as they are fixed price. While hiring the vehicle all such considerations are discussed with the vehicle owners, too. He then produces a bill for us according to the norms.”

According to sources from various political parties, each urban seat actually ends up costing a candidate Rs 5 crore in campaigning expenses. The cost for a rural seat is Rs 2–3 crore. In some urban seats, the cost involved goes up to Rs 10 crore per constituency.

Thus only the rich and the very rich can afford to contest an election!

"My uncle Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who rose to become the country's vice president and prior to that the chief minister of Rajasthan, incurred an expenditure of Rs 300 in 1952, in his first election from Dantaramgarh," recalls Jitendra Singh Shekhawat, his nephew, from simpler times when a minister may hire at most a tonga to tour his constituency.

Now, failure to maintain proper accounts or to exceed the set limits are electoral offences under Section 171-I of the Indian Penal Code.

The point of curtailing excessive election expenditures was elucidated by the Supreme Court in Kanwar Lal Gupta vs Amar Nath Chawla (AIR 1975 SC 308):

The object of the provision limiting the expenditure is twofold. In the first place, it should be open to any individual or any political party, howsoever small, to be able to contest an election on a footing of equality with any other individual or political party, howsoever rich and well-financed it may be, and no individual or political party should be able to secure an advantage over others by virtue of its superior financial strength….
Supreme Court of India, in Kanwar Lal Gupta vs Amar Nath Chawla

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