The right way to control money power in elections is to activate public opinion on the matter, not fix random limits.
The Election Commission has directed all political parties to divulge the names and details of every donor who finances them. A study illustrates that parties assert that over 75 percent of the donation they received over 2004-12 came from unidentified donors.
The EC thinks its diktat will transform political backing. But in reality it won’t. First, the notice and the study on which it is based is planned only on the amounts that parties wish to reveal willingly.
It will not comprise the huge bribes from, say, defence or highway development contracts. Nor will it include money generated from assigning contracts and projects at the rank of state governments.
All such dealings are in cash, clearly planned to make them undetectable. Second, it will make much more logic for people to start tracking the costs of parties and matching them with acknowledged statements of accounts.
The EC may not be able to do this on its own, but if supported by civil society organisations and pressured by competitive politics, we could see some steps towards more translucent financial support. But scrutinising spending will not work without one very vital step: the government has to modify the law to scrap its random, and worthless, limit on election expenses.
Till the time it does so, all parties will merely say that they have spent the obligatory spending sum. These limits, at Rs. 16 lakh per candidate for each assembly seat and Rs. 40 lakh for a Lok Sabha seat, are absurdly small.
The right way to control money power in elections is to activate public opinion on the matter, not fix random limits. Finally, a new law to control parties is required. Without precise definitions, dos and don’ts will be impractical to describe the limits of party functioning, inner-party democracy and spending.