Po­lit­i­cal Fund­ing is the Is­sue, not Peanuts

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page -

It is ridicu­lous to ob­sess over the claimed ex­pen­di­ture of a can­di­date in a par­tic­u­lar con­stituency and es­ca­late a deemed breach of the stip­u­lated ex­pen­di­ture limit into a poll con­duct vi­o­la­tion leading to pos­si­ble dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion. At a key, but in­stru­men­tal level, the bar­ring from elec­tions of a can­di­date on con­tentious grounds is a vi­ti­a­tion of the elec­toral process. How cor­rect is it to re­move a can­di­date and per­vert the people’s ver­dict — let­ting an­other can­di­date gain, or win by de­fault? The big­ger is­sue is the mis­ap­pli­ca­tion of norms on po­lit­i­cal fund­ing, with a mere tech­ni­cal­ity ob­scur­ing the larger task of whole­sale re­form of po­lit­i­cal fund­ing. The idea is not to de­fend throw­ing money around dur­ing elec­tions. But the truth is that, given the bla­tantly un­der­hand meth­ods by which po­lit­i­cal par­ties col­lect and dis­trib­ute funds, the stated sums put out by them are al­most al­ways a frac­tion of what is ac­tu­ally gar­nered and spent. Pol­i­tics needs money, and lots of it — even the Aam Aadmi Party, though laud­able in the trans­par­ent man­ner it went about that task, felt the pinch when faced with the deep pock­ets of es­tab­lished play­ers. In­dian democ­racy is funded by opaque means, with par­ties show­ing an in­come that is a tiny per­cent­age of the ac­tual sums. This money, in turn, is gath­ered via pa­tron­age and ex­tor­tion, cor­rupt­ing the civil ser­vice and ad­min­is­tra­tion in the process. To root out this ma­jor cause of en­demic cor­rup­tion, fund­ing and ex­pen­di­ture of par­ties should be trans­par­ent, they should be re­quired to de­clare this, and the dec­la­ra­tion should be open to chal­lenge by other par­ties and var­i­ous watch­dog bod­ies, in­clud­ing the me­dia and the EC. This, of course, needs po­lit­i­cal will. Sum­mon­ing that is the big task, not go­ing af­ter peanuts a par­tic­u­lar can­di­date may have scat­tered.

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