The famous American truism that “money is the mother’s milk of politics” is attributed to Jesse “big daddy” Unruh, California’s Democratic party boss in the 60’s who won the state for John F Kennedy in 1960 and had Richard Nixon defeated for governor two years later. California, the like now, is the USA’s biggest state and logically the biggest source of political funding. In those days US politicians collected money in wads pretty much like our politicians do now by putting the squeeze, shaking hands, collecting IOU’s and cutting deals with businessmen, criminals and some other less desirable types.

Politics in India is a full time vocation. People who are devoted to it do not hold regular office hours jobs to make a living. Some might have private means, but most are “supported” by moneyed people keen to buy connections than can translate into political favors. The level a person is at determines the scale of money that passes hands. If you look at them closely, very few of our top political leaders have held or hold jobs or have assets that will provide them with living incomes. But almost all of them manage to live well, come to own properties and migrate into the plush comforts of upper income lifestyles. The beauty of this is that almost all of the leading self-made political figures of our age will have hagiographies about early life under very trying conditions. Clearly some or even much of the so-called “party funds” do not reach the party’s coffers. At a time when most party identities are coterminous with a ruling dynasty, the difference between party and self is often very blurred.

It’s not that political parties do not get money directly and declare it too. Corporates and business houses made 87% of the total donations to national parties between FY 2004-05 and 2011-12. Out of Rs 435.87 crores collected by national parties between FY 2004-05 and 2011-12, corporates and business houses donated Rs 378.89 crores. Out of the national parties, BJP received the maximum donations of Rs 192.47 crores from 1334 donors from corporate/ business sector followed by INC receiving a total contribution of Rs 172.25 crores from 418 donors from corporate/ business sector. 92% of INC’s voluntary contributions are from corporate/ business houses while 85% of BJP’s contribution is from corporate/ business houses.

The figures for the period up to May 2014 have not been made available as yet by the parties, but even if we assume that they had received a like sum or even twice that, the total money that flowed through their kitties since 2004 cannot be more than Rs. 6000 crores. Now square this up against what these two parties alone are estimated to have spent for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Since he was announced as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate in September 2013, Narendra Modi traveled over 300,000 kms mostly by private jets and helicopters crisscrossing the country addressing 437 major public meetings. Private chartered aircraft cost as much as Rs.3 lakhs an hour of flying time. After the election dates were announced he traveled 200,000 kms and addressed 198 public meetings.

A grueling pace, but also an expensive one. Those of us who have been inside election campaigns of big parties, we know that each public meeting costs a minimum of Rs. 10 crores. Apart from the cost of the star campaigners travel, there is the cost of local prachar, samagrahi and bhatta. Then crowds have to be hauled from their homes, often over distances to make the meeting a success, and have to be provided for with transport, allowances that have to exceed a days foregone wages, food and drink, and the buses, trucks and tractor trailers have to be paid for also. These are huge expenses. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi also addressed some 132 meetings. The costs remain the same. Tote them up together both parties spent close to Rs. 4000 crores, just on public meetings.

Of the 8251 candidates who contested the 543 seats, 1045 belonged to the two major formations, the NDA and UPA. The average assets declared by all the candidates were Rs. 5.83 crores, while the average Congress candidate had assets of Rs.54.38 crores and the BJP candidate was worth Rs.8.55 crores. Clearly politics is now a rich man’s pastime. Clearly, wealthy as they might be, but candidates cannot finance their elections.

It is widely believed that each of the candidates of the two major formations on an average received and spent close to Rs.10 crores each. You have another Rs. 10-12000 crores here. Then there is the cost of publicity, advertising and even paying off the media. It is well known that to many TV channels and print media, elections are a time to earn some money. What candidates spent from their sources is over and above. The Centre for Media Studies conservatively estimates that the parties together spent Rs.30, 000 crores during the 2014 elections.

Now we know that the two major national parties will be hard-pressed to explain for more than Rs. 6000 crores. The electoral laws require the candidate’s expenditures for a Lok Sabha seat not to exceed Rs.70 lakhs. Which means, every candidate, at least from the two big parties, win or lose, files a false declaration before the Election Commission, which oblivious to the reality accepts them as the gospel truth.

Money never comes without strings. There have to be payoffs in kind and by tweaking policies. Keep your eyes open.

(Cover Photograph Courtesy Indian Liberals)