Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Team BJP is replete with resources, giving his side a massive advantage over its rivals. The main opposition Congress party appears clueless as BJP strides ahead to win a second term in India’s general election.
Opaque campaign financing in India makes it tricky to get a full picture of money in politics in the world’s largest democracy. But current and former BJP supporters, opposition politicians, businessmen and activists say Modi has an unprecedented advantage, thanks to support from businesses and expectations, he will be the winner.
The ruling party, the BJP, war chest has allowed it to unleash a massive amount of advertising on social media and send Modi and party officials crisscrossing India to campaign.The BJP has spent money hugely on Facebook and Google advertisements, spending six times more than Congress since February.
Modi merchandise abounds, as do Modi marketing sites. The money puts the BJP in an extraordinarily powerful position, even over logistical issues like how to get its leaders to election rallies.
Congress leaders agree that the BJP has the funds to reserve most of India’s fleet of helicopters for hire for 90 days, making it difficult for opponents to get hold of them.”We have never ever seen an election with such disparity. Financially, we cannot compete with them,” admit veteran Congress politicians. They expect the BJP to outspend them by a factor of ten.
The BJP leaders do not provide an estimate of spending. It is, though, clear that the BJP definitely has more funds at its disposal than the Congress.
Money becomes critical in elections given India’s 1.3 billion population, its voting over 39 days and the sheer complexity of the electorate, in terms of region, religion, language, and caste. A tradition of doling out freebies to sway voters only adds to costs. Authorities say they have seized goods and cash worth about $456 million since March 26.
Parliamentary candidates’ expenditure is capped at up to Rs 7 million (about $100,000), but the limit is widely flouted, and political parties are allowed to spend freely. The New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies (CMS) estimates almost $8.6 billion will be spent on this year’s vote, roughly twice the 2014 election. The figure would surpass OpenSecrets.org’s estimate that $6.5 billion was spent in the 2016 U.S. presidential and congressional elections. India is no more a poor country.
Recent reforms under Modi may have fueled the spending spree. Companies can fund parties anonymously through new ‘electoral bonds’ and they no longer face a donations cap. That gives corporations too much sway and obscures ties between politicians and businessmen. Under the electoral bond scheme announced by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley last year, individuals and companies can anonymously buy as many bonds as they wish in denominations ranging from 1,000 rupees to 10 million rupees and deposit them in a party account at the State Bank of India (SBI).”The electoral bond scheme envisages total clean money and substantial transparency,” Jaitley said in a Facebook post.
“Modi has made business easier,” said businessman Sunil Alagh, who heads consulting firm SKA Advisors and sits on several boards.
Business titans tend to give to several parties to hedge their bets.
Even Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s richest man and the boss of the Reliance Industries conglomerate, hedges his bets. Mukesh hails from Modi’s home state of Gujarat and his family has praised the prime minister publicly. Ambani even splashed Modi’s face on advertisements for the Reliance Jio telecoms launch in 2016. But last month, Ambani endorsed Congress candidate Milind Deora, appearing in a video saying “Milind is the man for South Bombay.” Deora’s politician father was a close friend of the Ambanis.
About 95 percent of electoral bonds snapped up in a first tranche offering last year went to the BJP, as per BJP filings. The Congress and other opposition parties failed miserably to impress the business community. Moreover, a perception loomed large that they are unlikely to win the elections. Thus, they received far fewer funds. Hence, political strategists say that the opposition has already lost most of the electoral battle.
On the contrary, the BJP received the most of the funds. This war chest gives the BJP several advantages. Money is useful not only for wooing voters but also for keeping networks of party workers and influencers well lubricated.
Pawan Khera, a Congress spokesman, said this was “turning out to be the most unequal election.” When asked whether the BJP had a financial advantage, party spokesman Anil Baluni said “It is not an unfair advantage. I guess the BJP does believe in taking maximum donations by cheque or through bonds. We are the largest political party in the country.”
Modi was elected in 2014 as a darling of the business community. His stars dimmed somewhat later, partially due to fallout from issues like lack of jobs and distressed farm incomes. But with some businesses wary of a fragile opposition coalition coming to power, Modi seems to have retained his backers.
The opposition parties led by the Congress have been hampered by their inability to forge a national alliance to take on Team Modi. In Delhi, Ajay Maken of Congress has stated that both AAP and Congress have ruined their poll prospects by not forging an alliance between them. Its thumbs up for the BJP in Delhi.
The opposition have struggled to capitalise on discontent against the BJP over job situation and farmers’ plight. The PM Modi has been topping polls as India’s most popular politician, way ahead of the Congress President Rahul Gandhi.
Staggered voting in the general election is currently in progress across India, with results to be declared on May 23. Analysts have asserted that the scales have been tilted in favour of the ruling BJP in the first four phases of the general elections, and the remaining three would determine the magnitude of its victory and the Opposition’s defeat.