The high ‘deposit’ bar for contests

A record 1,033 candidates contested the Modakurichi seat in 1996 and 1,030 lost their deposit. Photo shows the "ballot book" that was used to record the candidate details. Photo: The Hindu Archives

A record 1,033 candidates contested the Modakurichi seat in 1996 and 1,030 lost their deposit. Photo shows the "ballot book" that was used to record the candidate details. Photo: The Hindu Archives   | Photo Credit: PTI

In 1996, in Modakurichi, near Erode, in Tamil Nadu an unusually high number of candidates took part in the Assembly elections, so much so that the Election Commission of India had to issue a “ballot book” instead of a “ballot paper” to record the number of contestants. The commission dutifully records that 1,033 candidates contested the seat, 1,030 lost their deposit, 88 did not even register a single vote in their tally and 158 got one vote each.

Now, this was a one-off occurrence, long before the voters had a none-of-the-above option to register an “electoral protest”. Indignant about agricultural issues in their area, many voters in Modakurichi simply sought to become candidates themselves. As many as 1,016 of the 1,033 candidates were farmers who used a subversive tactic to countermand the election, and ended up creating a bureaucratic headache for the Election Commission.

What was the commission’s response to this one-off Assembly constituency issue and other anomalies such as the 480 contestants in the Nalgonda Lok Sabha constituency in 1996, among others? It resolved to increase the security deposit amount from what was Rs. 500 (Rs 250 for SC/ST candidates) for Lok Sabha constituencies and Rs. 250 (Rs. 125) for Assembly constituencies to Rs. 25,000 (Rs. 12,500) and Rs. 10,000 (Rs. 5,000), respectively.

Our study of all Assembly elections in India shows that post-1996, a significant drop occurred in the number of candidates contesting each Assembly constituency. Over time, later, there has been a slight increase in the average number of candidates. But 1996 marked a clear peak.

The study calculated the average number of candidates in every seat in every State Assembly election. But it is simply not enough to calculate the average number of candidates. Some States have a wide multi-party system; Uttar Pradesh, for example, has four viable parties contesting most seats, Bihar has had more than three and even Tamil Nadu has at times had more then two parties contesting each seat viably. It is necessary to remove the viable contestants from the data and only consider those candidates who are non-viable candidates to show the actual non-serious candidates contesting each seat.

To do so, the Laakso-Taagepara statistical method was used to identify all the “effective number of candidates” in each seat and these were taken out of the data to limit the study to non-serious candidates in each constituency. The data is revealing. For example, from an average of almost 19 non-serious candidates in 1996 in Tamil Nadu, the number drops to 5.5 in 2001, 8.4 in 2006 and 9 in 2011. The drop clearly coincided with the increase in the security deposit — and which eliminated a large number of non-serious candidates who would have otherwise sought to take part in elections. But the later increase in the candidate numbers indicate that Rs. 10,000 is no longer such a large sum for candidates.

To see the "non-serious number of candidates ("extras")" over the years, select "Time" in x-axis. Also, select "unique colors" from the dropdown (on top-right) to identify different States with their corresponding colours. The viewer is requested to consider the actual years of polls. The rest of the years on the x-axis are merely used to show the “trails”.

As regards the larger question if a high number of candidates contesting any election is problematic, the answer is not an easy one. A vibrant democracy should allow for anyone to contest elections beyond party affiliations and Indian democracy provides for elections to be a launching pad for newer political forces from among discontented sections who do not see themselves adequately represented. That said, the presence of a reasonable security deposit allows for a mechanism that restricts the candidacy to a viable and rational number. As for discontent of the kind seen in Modakurichi? There is the NOTA option to register a protest vote. Only, this does not really have any value beyond being a number.

Data used for generating the interactive chart can be accessed >here.

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Printable version | Sep 13, 2020 10:34:17 AM |

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