Indian politicians are an austere lot, who shrink from spending even on their own election, judging by a report that studied expenses declared by candidates in the 2009 Lok Sabha election. The study conducted by National Election Watch found that on an average, candidates spent less than 50 per cent of the prescribed individual limit of Rs. 25 lakh. Winners, who presumably gave their all to the contest, also spent well below the limit.

The average party-wise expenditure per winning candidate was as follows: Congress Rs.14.30 lakh; Bharatiya Janata Party Rs.15.04 lakh; Samajwadi Party Rs.16.31 lakh; Bahujan Samaj Party 14.32 lakh; and the All-India Trinamool Congress 15.80 lakh.

Significantly, an earlier study done by NEW had located 306 crorepati among the 543 MPs in the current Lok Sabha. Nearly half (141) of them were from the Congress, while 58 belonged to the BJP. Forty-two MPs with a collective wealth of over Rs. 600 crore were from Andhra Pradesh.

MPs from Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu were collectively worth about Rs. 500 crore and Rs. 450 crore respectively. The 80 MPs from Uttar Pradesh, a State with poverty levels far below the national average, boasted a collective fortune of Rs. 400 crore. The study analysed the statement of expenses of 6,753 candidates from 543 constituencies.

The analysis took into account the money spent individually by candidates and the expenses incurred on their behalf by their parties. Out of the 6,753 candidates, about 19 per cent were still to file their expenses. From the parties, 64 out of 421 candidates from the BSP, 13 out of 361 from the BJP and 7 out of 374 from the Congress had not declared expenses.

In all, only four candidates showed expenses exceeding the limit — Jaforulla Molla (Rs.49 lakh) of AUDF from Murshidabad, West Bengal; Prakash Jha (Rs.45.27 lakh) of the Lok Janshakti Party from Champaran, Bihar; Raghuraj Singh Shakya (Rs.41 lakh) and Ramji Lal Suman (Rs.31 lakh) of the Samajwadi Party from Fatehpur Sikri and Agra respectively in U.P. Ironically, all four lost the election.

Not surprisingly, the findings invited caustic comments from observers. Said former Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh: “Going by the average election expenses of candidates, it seems our politicians are very poor people.” He said election expenses should be audited not by the government but by external competent authorities. Shankar Roy Chowdhury of NEW said he could not believe candidates had spent so little, “given the present trends of lavish political campaigning in most of the States.” He called the declarations a “farce” and said they made a “mockery of the entire system.”

A recent expose in The Hindu showed that though Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan claimed to have spent only Rs.5,379 on newspaper advertisements during the recent Assembly election, he had in fact received saturation coverage in the press, which indicated surrogate advertising on his behalf.

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