Don't ask candidates what they've spent

The Election Commission‘s (EC) reported plan to raise poll expenditure limits is fairly pointless without comprehensive capture of the real extent of spending. The multiple enhancement options, suggested by an EC-appointed panel, include raising the cap to ₹90 lakh-1 crore from ₹77 lakh for Lok Sabha candidates, and ₹35-38 lakh from ₹30 lakh for assembly contestants, translating into a 25-29% increase. Of course, costs have ratcheted up as campaigns are becoming bigger and more competitive. However, spending caps are routinely breached and expenses shown are a sliver of the actual money spent. The problem is not just the money spent but also the opacity of its source.

Rather than raise spending caps, it would be better to capture actual spending by crowdsourcing information on expenditure, ask candidates for corroboration or disputation, finalise a figure and ask the candidate to show the source of the funds to meet this expenditure. It is possible for the Opposition, voluntary groups and dedicated watchdogs to keep track of each and every item of spending – on number of advertisements, posters and hoardings put up, number of rallies and people marshalled for these rallies, leaders travelling in to speak, buses and cars plying, microphones hired and so on. Photographs – geotagged and timestamped – can back up expenditure reporting. Ubiquitous smart phones make this quite easy. Data capture and analytics can be used to estimate the actual cost of campaigning, independent of the accounts filed by candidates and political parties.

This would call for deploying technology and big-data analytics. Once political funding becomes transparent, politics itself would become less corrupt, and governance by politicians.


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