Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) on Thursday, October 10 organised a forum on general elections 2019, focusing on the issues and challenges concerning two broad themes—crime and money in electoral politics and social media, election expenditure and voter influence. The conference was held at the India International Centre, New Delhi. During the event, ADR also released a report—an analysis of funds collected and expenditure incurred by various political parties during Maharashtra and Haryana Assembly elections in 2014, in the light of the upcoming state Assembly elections in the two states on October 21.
The forum was addressed by prominent experts including S Y Quraishi, former Chief Election Commissioner; Nasim Zaidi, former Chief Election Commissioner; D Dhanuraj, Chairman, Centre for Public Policy Research; Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Senior Journalist; Maneesh Chhibber, Senior Journalist; Pratik Sinha, Co-founder, Alt News; Shivam Shankar Singh, Data Analyst; Jasmine Shah, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP); and Ankit Lal, AAP. The sessions were chaired by Prof. Jagdeep Chhokar and Vipul Mudgal from ADR.
Founded in 1999, ADR has been advocating transparency, accountability and reforms in electoral politics in India. According to their analysis, in the recent 2019 elections, 88% of the 542 winners were crorepatis, of which 43% had declared criminal charges against them. The proportion of elected representatives with criminal charges against them saw an increase of 44% from the 2009 general elections.
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Speaking about money and muscle power in electoral politics, Quraishi said that in the last two decades, the elections have become a “level playing field for those with money and muscle power” in the country.
Maneesh Chhibber contended that the trend in contemporary electoral politics can only be reversed if the election commission is empowered with more powers and the judiciary system functions vibrantly.
Speaking on the influence of social media in the general elections of 2019, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta claimed that the election commission overlooked numerous violations committed by political parties. This happened despite the fact that its own committee had pointed out the possible tweaking of elections on the lines of digital campaigning, use of data analytics, micro-targeting voters in propagating fake news for manufacturing consent.
The other speakers, including Pratik Sinha, Shivam Shankar Singh and Ankit Lal highlighted how the Bharatiya Janata Party misused the digital media to tweak the model code of conduct.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which formed the government in both Maharashtra and Haryana in 2014 Assembly elections had collected the highest amount of funds of Rs 296.74 crore during elections for the campaigning in these two states. This was followed by Congress, which collected Rs 84.37 crore, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) (Rs 38.1 crore), Shiv Sena (Rs 16.36 crore), Samajwadi Party (Rs 7.45 crore) and Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI(M)] (Rs 3.69 crore).
While the political parties are required to submit a statement of election expenditure to the Election Commission of India (ECI) within 75 days of completion of elections, BJP and Congress delayed the submission by 198 and 181 days, respectively.
As per the submissions by the two parties, expenditure incurred by BJP was recorded as Rs 226.82 crore, followed by Congress which spent Rs 63.31 crore, NCP (Rs 35 crore), Shiv Sena (Rs 17.9 crore) and CPI(M) (Rs 1.27 crore) during the last Assembly elections in the two states.
On publicity alone, BJP spent Rs 186.39 crore, which was around 66% of total expenditure on publicity in the two states, followed by Congress (Rs 41.19 crore).
On this account, ADR made recommendations including penalisation in cases where political parties fail to submit expenditure statements within prescribed time and demanded that the political parties reveal the details of the fund donors and urged the ECI to appoint observers for monitoring the expenditure of political parties.
The upcoming Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana will be held on October 21 and the results will be declared on October 24.
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