Electionomics: benefit & cost framework

By Prabhakar Timble
02 February 2012 20:37 IST

General elections in a multi-religious, multi-caste, multi-party democracy like India with deep rooted social and economic inequity is akin to a war. The atmosphere is like that of a battle ground wherein political parties flex muscles; bombard cash, goodies and alcoholic beverages; and personalities clash swaying tongues like bullets and swords. Just as military spending necessitated by war is considered as wasteful and non-productive, so is election spending. The difference is that the election ‘auctions’ do not result in destruction and loss of life and property. Military spending eats into the share of welfare allocations in public budgets whereas election expenditure redistributes income, siphons idle black money into circulation and pumps purchasing power in rural markets. Too much money in few hands gets reallocated into little money in many hands.

Benefits

Campaign spending may be perceived as wasteful. It may be transferred legally or illegally. The enormous volume and the transfer to the sections having a high marginal propensity to consume provides boost to the economy due to the multiplier effect.

The direct economic benefits arise to the services sector. Advertising, Public Relations, Event Management, Hotel & Travel, ITeS and Media are the key beneficiaries. Apart from this, the election period accounts for a rise in print media readership and electronic media viewership. The FMCG and alcoholic beverages industries experience heavy incremental sales and profits. Rural markets get ignited, though temporarily, due to the enhanced purchasing power consequent on election spending. More the candidates in the election fray, greater are the lifts to the economy. In short, it is an upbeat economy, cheerful trade and sunny commerce. Economically, it is a period of bubbly expectations in all sectors of the economy including white goods and consumer durables.

The non-economic gains are in terms of sensitisation of the people towards democracy and governance. Elections are an opportunity for political parties and NGOs for education and feedback. It is an excellent forum to keep democracy vibrant and work for peaceful change. Every fresh election makes people assertive and contributes to positive social change due to mass participation. Elections make possible additions, deletions, renovations, shits and innovations in policies to answer the aspirations of the people. Irrespective of the outcome of elections, the process of elections and the campaign throws new leaders and makes the citizens alert and vigilant than before.

Costs

The direct economic cost which is indispensable is in terms of the conduct of the mammoth exercise. The election code of conduct can also reveal the opportunity cost of elections. A complete halt to development projects for a three month period and many times a holiday for government schemes and programmes postpone the benefits to the target segment. With the takeover of governance by the IAS cadre who are normally insensitive to citizens, people realise the vacuum created due to the absence of the elected executive. On the one side, elections provide power to the people to choose their representatives. On the other side, the people are powerless during the election period since public administration is at standstill. The campaign economics and spending by candidates reflects the failure of the Income Tax authorities, Enforcement Directorate and Vigilance authorities to stem the rot of unaccounted funds in the preceding five years. If raids are possible by Excise department on erring traders and manufacturers during the three-month election period, the same are equally possible during all times. If flying squads can nab crores of notes stacked during campaign period, the same can be also confiscated by the same authorities during normal times.

The non-economic cost of elections can be read from the social damages. It is observed that after every fresh election the numbers of youth addicted to vices swell. Like this unguarded youth, the intellectual cream of the society also gets drawn to use their pen and oratory towards cheap creativity to sing for the would-be kings and queens. People lose confidence in the goddess of democracy due to the abuse of money power. The anger against minorities and migrants shoots up since they are perceived as vote banks. Caste loyalties get fossilised due to caste-based appeals and ‘hate’ campaigns. One time enemies become friends and life-long friends turn foes. Political leaders are refined actors in this game taking the gullible public for a ride. The damage at the grass-roots becomes irreversible when neighbours raise walls of separation due to personal loyalties and find comfort with strangers due to the shifting affiliations of the insatiable greed of leaders for power and money. The growing hold and aggrandisement of individuals and families rather than political parties (Left bloc an exception) along with their ideology, manifesto and programme is looming up as a cost of elections in India.

Outcome

There is no strong factual data to prove whether campaign economics and expenditure has a bearing on voting. Does the short market-period electioneering alter the voting decisions?

Previous statistics corroborate that under normal circumstances around 35% will abstain from voting for innumerable set of reasons. They would stay away even if the Right to reject is incorporated. Around 50% of the electorate is ready with a decision of whom to vote unmindful of the dust, noise, fireworks and money-kites of the election campaign. The undecided vote of 15% and the possibility of an increase in voting percentage may hold the key to who could be the first past the post and eventually win the multi-contested poll. It is for this category that campaign economics and strategy could play the significant role.

The general public perception is that every fresh election tends to bring an outcome worse and less palatable than the earlier. This means the perception is that costs outweigh the benefits of every successive election. According to me, the outcome should be judged from whether every fresh election brings a change in government or change in the political party/alliance or change in elected representatives or change in their profile and composition. Change is a value in itself, to be prized in a multi-interest group society like our country. Whether it is Bangalore in Karnataka or Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh or Chandigarh in Punjab, of course, Goa not an exception, a change of whatever nature is the ideal vehicle for stable, strong and healthy democracy and responsive governance. Like iron, a static leadership gathers rust, fat, complacency and arrogance.

 

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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Previous Comments

Despite being very optimistic in my personal life,I tend to go with general public perception of the sad state of affairs..

We may opt for a change. But no party has a system of electing their candidates based on specific criteria.

The process of selction of a candidate is most often opaque, and adhoc. It is also marked by intrigue, money deals, dynastic concerns and strange electoral arithmetic.

Voters will have to vote the candidates who are hand picked by "High Command" in mostly undemocratic fashion.

The entire exercise of our type of democracy revolves around the crucial role played by "political parties". Unfortunately our entire sacred Constitution does not have any mention of "Political Party"!

- Bhasker Assoldekar, Mumbai | 02 nd February 2012 13:10

 

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