India Today - - UPFRONT - By Gilles Verniers

The role of money in pol­i­tics is an is­sue ev­ery­one has an opin­ion about de­spite hav­ing none of the facts. The rea­son quite sim­ply is that po­lit­i­cal fund­ing in In­dia is opaque and thus un­ob­serv­able, de­spite the en­hanced scru­tiny of can­di­dates’ ex­pen­di­tures ex­erted by the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion. Po­lit­i­cal fund­ing in In­dia does not lack trans­parency. It has none.

Costs of Democ­racy, edited by po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists Devesh Ka­pur and Mi­lan Vaish­nav, makes a re­fresh­ing start to­wards ad­dress­ing the opaque­ness of po­lit­i­cal fund­ing in In­dia. The edi­tors put to­gether a col­lec­tion of seven pa­pers, which com­bine novel data with method­olog­i­cal rigour (both quan­ti­ta­tive and qual­i­ta­tive) to seek an­swers to some fun­da­men­tal ques­tions. What are the sources of po­lit­i­cal fi­nance? How (and on what) do politi­cians and par­ties spend money? What is the in­sti­tu­tional and reg­u­la­tory con­text that gov­erns the flow of money into pol­i­tics and why is it so in­ef­fec­tive?

The over­ar­ch­ing ex­pla­na­tion that the vol­ume pro­vides for the preva­lence of elec­toral fi­nan­cial mal­prac­tice is that the sys­tem as a whole and in its parts of­fers no in­cen­tive to par­ties or can­di­dates to dis­ci­pline their po­lit­i­cal spend­ing. Quite the con­trary, par­ties and can­di­dates are in­cen­tivised to out­spend their op­po­nents, thus cre­at­ing an up­ward spi­ral of cam­paign ex­pen­di­tures.

E. Srid­ha­ran un­der­lines that po­lit­i­cal par­ties re­main largely un­reg­u­lated as the in­stru­ments that would al­low the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion or some other au­thor­ity to ex­ert con­trol over par­ties sim­ply do not ex­ist. Nee­lan­jan Sir­car analy­ses can­di­dates’ as­set dec­la­ra­tions to es­tab­lish that the com­pet­i­tive­ness of elec­tions en­cour­ages par­ties to rely on per­sonal wealth.

Jen­nifer Bus­sell fur­thers that con­tri­bu­tion by us­ing sur­vey data to re­veal the ex­tent to which elec­toral can­di­dates de­pend on per­sonal fund­ing, as well as re­ly­ing on the sup­port of friends and rel­a­tives. In the process, webs of in­flu­ence get wo­ven, ty­ing elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives to all sorts of lo­cal in­ter­ests.

This is il­lus­trated in turn by Ka­pur and Vaish­nav, who use a clever re­search de­sign to ex­pose the links be­tween the con­struc­tion in­dus­try and pol­i­tics. By look­ing at the fluc­tu­a­tion of dis­tri­bu­tion of ce­ment around the elec­toral cy­cle, they ob­serve that the amount of money in­vested in pol­i­tics af­fects the abil­ity of builders to buy raw ma­te­rial.

Get­ting elected also means en­ter­ing a world of daily ex­pen­di­ture. The chap­ters by Björk­man and Wit­soe ex­am­ine the role of money in the daily lives of elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives. They re­veal that the use of money goes be­yond the buy­ing of votes or the fi­nanc­ing of cam­paign ac­tiv­i­ties. The cred­i­bil­ity of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers is es­tab­lished by their abil­ity to dis­play—and dis­burse—wealth, through gifts, as a sig­nal of their abil­ity to ac­cess higher net­works of power. Si­mon Chauchard un­der­lines that cam­paigns have be­come more so­phis­ti­cated, and there­fore costly af­fairs, and that the rise in po­lit­i­cal ex­pen­di­ture also comes from le­git­i­mate forms of spend­ing.

The im­pli­ca­tions are far-reach­ing and crit­i­cal to the func­tion­ing and mean­ing of In­dia’s democ­racy. Money acts as an im­por­tant fil­ter of who gets to be­come a rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Money af­fects the abil­ity of po­lit­i­cal ac­tors to act in­de­pen­dently, as it chains them to a sys­tem of obli­ga­tions with­out over­sight. By us­ing em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence to shed light on an opaque phe­nom­e­non, this book con­tains the best that academia has to of­fer to a broad au­di­ence of con­cerned cit­i­zens.

Gilles Verniers is as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science and co-direc­tor of the Trivedi Cen­tre for Po­lit­i­cal Data, Ashoka Univer­sity. Views are per­sonal.

Money af­fects the abil­ity of po­lit­i­cal ac­tors to act in­de­pen­dently, as it chains them to a sys­tem of obli­ga­tions with­out over­sight

COSTS OF DEMOC­RACY: Po­lit­i­cal Fi­nance in In­dia Edited by Devesh Ka­pur and Mi­lan Vaish­nav Ox­ford Univer­sity Press `750, 311 pages

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