The 2019 Lok Sabha elections have passed by and everyone who calls the democratic exercise a festival would be keen to know the costs of staging such an event.
The first shot at an estimate is out with the Centre For Media Studies’ (CMS) report titled ‘Poll Expenditure, The 2019 Elections’. It says that political parties, candidates and the Election Commission spent between Rs 55,000 and Rs 60,000 crore during the polls, taking the average expenditure per constituency to over Rs 100 crore.
The disdain expressed at the beginning of the earlier paragraph also finds its way into CMS’ report as gauging an estimate for this mammoth exercise is quite the task. At the outset, in a header titled ‘Dilemma in Estimation,’ the body mentions that estimates of money spent by parties prior to the announcement of polls on March 10th has not been done. Similarly, money disbursed by central and state government schemes (notable mention for Andhra Pradesh) and on advertising in media “in the specific context of elections” isn’t there. How does one also begin to estimate money spent on “non-political” interviews and biopics?
The data released however does provide enough detail. CMS estimates that about Rs 700 was spent on a voter during the polls. There were almost 902 million eligible voters in the recently concluded elections. “A new major item of expenditure in this poll was 'middle man/leader'. This expenditure has now become a 'normal, but distinct trend,'” says the report.
Out of the Rs 55-60,000 crore spent, the organisation estimates that campaigning and publicity accounted for 30-35 percent of it at between Rs 20-25000 crore. The second-highest amount was on the voter, who got between 20 and 25 percent of the pie, bringing home between Rs 12-15,000 crore. The Election Commission of India is estimated to have spent the third-highest at between Rs 10-12,000 crore for setting up the stage.
Who spent the money though? CMS’ report says that candidates spent 40 percent or about Rs 24,000 crore, a lion’s share of the total. Political parties come in a close second having spent about Rs 20,000 crore during the polls.
In the twenty years since poll expenditure has been estimated by the organisation, the total expenditure has rocketed to six times the amount. About Rs 9000 crore was spent in the 1999 election about 20 years prior. The report also mentions the trend of the ruling party outspending its nearest rival.
“It is interesting to see how the ruling party gears up to spend much more than other parties in Lok Sabha poll. The BJP spent about 20% in 1998 against about 45% in 2019 out of total poll expenditure estimate of Rs. 9,000 crores to Rs. 55,000 crores. In 2009, Congress party’s share was 40 percent of total expenditure in 2009, against 15 to 20 percent in 2019,” the report adds.