Friday, May 3, 2013

Politics of The Rich, by The Rich and Supposedly for The Poor!

Dr. A Surya Prakash, 
Distinguished Fellow, VIF

An analyses of the affidavits filed by candidates contesting the Karnataka Assembly election on May 5 provides further evidence that politics is now completely out of the reach of the poor and the middle classes. These affidavits also offer irrefutable evidence that there is no business like the “business of politics” in the country. There are also indicators that politics may not be a good calling for law-abiding citizens because there is steady rise in the number of candidates with criminal records or pending criminal cases.

Ever since the high judiciary stepped in and directed that those contesting assembly and parliamentary elections must declare their educational qualifications, pending criminal cases and assets and liabilities, voters across the country, who were totally clueless about the antecedents of the candidates now have some information to go on while exercising their franchise in state assembly and Lok Sabha elections. Though the information available via the affidavits filed by contestants may be patchy, it provides valuable clues about how each candidate is placed in terms of his education, financial status and criminal record. Sometimes the contents of these affidavits may be useful, but they can be disturbing as well.

According to Karnataka Election Watch (KEW) and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), who analyzed the affidavits of 1052 candidates put up by six major political parties, 220 candidates (21 per cent) have pending criminal cases against them. Of them, about ten per cent of the candidates are facing serious criminal charges like murder and rape. The four major parties in the fray - Congress, BJP, Janata Dal (S) and Karnataka Janata Party – have given around 20 -25 per cent of their tickets to persons with criminal record.

KEW also analysed the affidavits of 347 candidates who had contested the assembly election in the state in 2008 and who are once again the fray in order to assess the financial standing of candidates. This analysis tells us a lot about how lucrative politics has become in the country. The increase in the value of assets owned by most of these candidates now as compared to what they possessed in 2008 is mind boggling. The value of assets possessed by these candidates has jumped by 79 per cent in just five years and on an average is Rs 6.25 crore per candidate. Also, the point to note is that not all of these candidates won the last election. This means that just being in politics is enough to ensure a steady rise in the net worth of a candidate.

Interestingly, the three candidates who have the highest declared assets are from the Congress Party. They are: Mr. Priyakrishna contesting from Govindarajanagar constituency in Bangalore City (Rs 910 crores); N.Nagaraju from Hoskote Constituency (Rs 470 crores) and Anil Lad of Bellary City (Rs 288 crores).

According to KEW analysts, the average assets held by 118 re-contesting candidates of the Congress Party today is Rs 24.85 crore while that of 93 BJP candidates in Rs 10.50 crore. Re-contesting candidates of the Janata Dal (S) have average assets of Rs 10.34 crore each while that of the re-contesting KJP candidates is Rs 3.15 crore. Among individual candidates, three Congress candidates stand out. Mr. D.K Shivkumar, a prominent Congress Leader contesting from Kanakapura Constituency heads the list. In 2008, his total assets amounted to Rs 75 crores. Today, after five years, he is worth Rs 251 crores – a jump of Rs 176 crores. Another Congress candidate from Bangalore - Priyakrishna of Govindrajnagar Constituency, was worth Rs 767 crores in 2008 and is now worth Rs 910 crores. Santosh Lad, also of the Congress Party, had assets worth Rs 61 crore in 2008. In 2013, this has jumped to Rs 186 crore.

Finally, a word about how candidates splurge money. Currently, in Karnataka, the buzz in many constituencies is that this election will cost every serious candidate at least Rs 5 crores. Political leaders say that candidates’ spending could even be between Rs 5-10 crores in many constituencies. Although this is way above the permitted ceiling by the Election Commission, all political parties are geared up for this kind of spending. In fact the major political parties are reportedly giving their candidates upwards of Rs one crore. But they expect the candidates to raise the rest. That is why political parties like the Congress, BKP, JD(s) and KJP look for wealthy candidates. They see a poor or middle class ticket aspirant as a liability and often reject him or her even though that person’s electoral prospects may be good. The commission is keeping a close watch on ostentatious spending and this has robbed the election of its usual noise and colour, but when it comes to bribing voters, politicians claim that they still have their way. They know where and when to pass on cash for bulk purchases among economically vulnerable voters. That is why the common man had become a rarity among candidates and terms like “social service” and “public service” have gone out of the window. Many politicians say elections are now a “Cash & Carry” business. It is not for the faint-hearted, nor is it for ordinary people with decent bank balances. No wonder, KEW reports that out of 1052 candidates from six major political parties, 681 (65 per cent) are crorepatis.

Reminds one of the 1970s hit by ABBA: “Money, Money, Money; Must be Funny; In the Rich man’s world!”

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