The theme for the first edition of the Indian Democracy at Work is “Money Power in Politics”. Money in politics has become pervasive from everyday party activity to candidate selection, in the day to day functioning of government, policy manipulation for private gain, in running party machinery and affecting party defections. The presence of business persons and wealthy people in political parties and legislatures is increasing in recent years at such a rapid pace that political life has become highly money-based. Well-meaning political parties and individuals who otherwise are public spirited and want to enter politics face insurmountable entry barriers.
Money is indeed needed to maintain parties, contest in elections, and conduct election campaigns. However, over time, the volume of funds required for political activity has increased manifold. At the same time, ironically, governance failure also leads to an increase in expenditure. Furthermore, money is also used for illegitimate purposes of vote-buying. Unequal access to finances and the increasing role of money can have perverse effects on democratic health, including the reduction of trust and decline of legitimacy.
In this context, the conference aims to explore four major sub-themes
- Party Maintenance
Political parties in India bear the highest burden of organisation building among all democracies. In every assembly constituency in a major state, for every major party, there exists a cadre of political workers who are increasingly mercenary in nature and are available to the public throughout the interelection period. Most of these workers have no source of livelihood and are sustained by various means, either by funds from a wealthy local leader or via small contracts; transfers and postings; and collection of a ‘fee’ for services. This burden is at the heart of the political and governance crisis in India.
- Candidate Selection
For most parties, there is no systematic process for identifying, nurturing and promoting political talent. The only effective leadership promotion is by setting up candidates for elective office. In the absence of credible process of candidate selection, money is the most crucial determinant of allocation of seats. As a result, our democracy is largely reduced to being a plutocracy. As wealth becomes the primary attribute for political office, many wealthy people are increasingly seeking candidature of main parties for elective office: there is no principle, ideal or vision that propels political recruitment.
- Political Campaign Expenditure
In any democracy, legitimate political activity costs money – to run a party, do research, study issues, sustain think tanks, for travel, literature, publicity and public mobilisation. Given the prevailing culture of cash contributions, and the fear of retribution or extortionary demands from rival parties, donor prefer unaccounted cash contributions. Parties also continue to resort to archaic, high cost, largely ineffective mass mobilisation. They are forced to incur these enormous, unproductive costs for fear of being dubbed as ‘weak’, or not being taken seriously by the media. Print and electronic media take advantage of their vulnerability and have been habitually extracting vast sums from the candidates
- Vote Buying
As people are perpetually dissatisfied with the failure of governments to deliver, and given the abject poverty of the bulk of the voters, parties have habitually resorted to vote-buying en masse. While large expenditure for votebuying does not guarantee victory, nonexpenditure for vote-buying almost certainly guarantees defeat! The net result is the creation of a huge entry barrier in elections and raising illegitimate costs of election exponentially. When vote buyer (candidate) and seller (voter) are colluding, there are no easy solutions to the problem of vote-buying. Enforcement of law is necessary, but not sufficient, and is unlikely to yield significant results.