Money Matters: Electoral success and elitism in Indian politics

Two weeks before the recent elections, as my friend and I shared coffee, she received a call. Her real estate broker was on the other end. He had a flat available for immediate purchase. The only condition was that the friend should be willing to pay cash, quickly. When my friend enquired about the sellers’ reasons for selling, she was told that that the seller money for “election expenses”.

Local leaders and party workers from across the political spectrum unfailingly attribute electoral success to money. At first blush, it would seem that electoral success is contingent entirely upon cash handouts to individual voters. Recent scholarly work, however, unpacks this relationship to highlight the complex mix of programmatic benefits and cash handouts that it takes to win an election. In a context where cash handouts do matter, albeit in varying degrees, exploring the relationship between money spent and electoral success can yield interesting insights.

However, electoral laws and normative concerns drive money underground, and we are forced to seek proxies for analysis. One such proxy for wealth distributed in elections is declared candidate assets. It must be emphasised that this does not act as proof of handouts. However, if the anecdote above anecdote is an indication, an analysis of declared candidate wealth can be useful in highlighting the money available for distribution. At the very least, such an analysis can shed light on the character of the candidates in the election in light of arguments of elitism in Indian politics.

In this note, using publicly available affidavit data, I break down declared candidate assets across key categories and explore potential implications as if the relationship between wealth and electoral success is true.

Findings

Average candidate assets differ across parties. The average INC candidate is wealthier than the average BJP candidate, though the wealthiest candidate seems to be the INC candidate that lost. Among the winners, the average INC candidate has 1.6 times the wealth of the average BJP winner.

  Won Runner Up Lost
INR mn      
BJP 94.56 (273) 136.71     (49) 41.10 (40)
INC 157.08     (43) 129.53 (214) 252.87 (31)

The data also suggest that candidates from the SC and ST communities have considerably less declared wealth on average than candidates in the general category.

Avg. declared assets N=
INR mn    
Gen 43.79 4865
SC 16.01 826
ST 24.11 368

The declared assets also vary by gender, and the average female candidate has declared 1.4 times the assets that the average male candidate declared. In contrast to the overall party trend vis-à-vis the INC, the average female BJP candidates is the wealthiest of the lot.

Avg. declared assets N=
INR mn    
F 53.36 343
M 37.96 5713
BJP INC
INR mn    
F 170.32 166.98
M 79.37 118.04

Overall Analysis

What do the findings imply? Many things – first, if candidate wealth does indeed enable handouts prior to elections, the evidence on wealth and caste category raises interesting research questions on the bases for political success in reserved constituencies – are there lesser instances of vote-buying there? Second, the claims of elitism in Indian politics arguably have a robust basis. Indeed, the INC’s candidates are wealthier in comparison to the BJP’s candidates, but the average candidate in this election has INR 3.8 crore of declared assets, placing the average candidate in the upper classes of society. The difference is really one of degree. Third, the evidence on gender seems to suggest that it is very wealthy women that contest elections. The average winning female candidate has declared assets of approximately INR 53 mn (INR 5.3 crore). This is likely to compound the problem of absence of voices, as poor women do not seem to be present in Parliament.

The base finding is perhaps the most disturbing. To be the average candidate, it seems that one has to be quite wealthy. This is quite insurmountable for a majority of the Indian populace, effectively excluding them from even contemplating participating in elections. Of course, assets seem to assure the wealthy entry, but do not provide liquidity. That’s why my friend was asked to pay in cash. – See more at: http://www.thepoliticalindian.com/indian-election-spending/#sthash.Epwf1Mjy.dpuf

The base finding is perhaps the most disturbing. To be the average candidate, it seems that one has to be quite wealthy. This is quite insurmountable for a majority of the Indian populace, effectively excluding them from even contemplating participating in elections. Of course, assets seem to assure the wealthy entry, but do not provide liquidity. That’s why my friend was asked to pay in cash.


All data from http://www.empoweringindia.org. Many thanks!

Published on Political Indian at: http://www.thepoliticalindian.com/indian-election-spending/

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