The recent verdict by Delhi High court on the so-called ‘Vedanta case’ stated that the two major political parties of India: namely the Congress and the BJP, had broken laws by accepting contributions from Vedanta, a mining company listed in London. While the judgment, arriving on a crucial juncture of Indian politics, had provided the smaller political parties as well as the newly sprung AAP with yet another issue to vociferate, in all the commotion, it failed to address the validity of the law itself.
In a post-globalisation world, has such a campaign finance law barring foreign donations meant to bear any particular significance? A country like India where nationalism was a highly praised attribute because of its anti-imperial past has to have these sorts of laws for obvious reasons. Given how the foreign capital once dominated post-Independent non-globalised India, the present law was well thought out. But the question remains, has the law outlived its purpose? With the fluidity of finance capital today and with the disintegration of barrier between foreign and domestic capital, does this law reeks of old Neheruvian ideas?
It would be really naive to think that ‘sincere goodwill’ is what compels the contributors to turn beneficiaries of different political parties. Most of the funds are essentially amassed from a very few people having vested interest in the process. The campaign finance laws were not devised with the intention to thwart common people whose benevolence driven contribution is more often than not inconsequential with respect to the total expenses of an election. The laws were meant to stymie the super-rich, the big industrialists and bankers and other ‘special people’ who would be in the regular business of being king-makers.
Campaign finance laws in any country are stacked up in order to secure the interest of the common voters who wouldn’t be able to financially influence the candidates but only has their voting rights to affect changes. Foreign donation, i.e., donation from someone who is effectively not a participant in the democratic process essentially means to influence the candidates overtly or covertly in a way that may not be helpful for his/her constituency. So the basic tenet is simple enough, yet it leads us to the question: who is supposed to bear the economic burden of an electoral process growing more expensive each day?
A recent study conducted by Centre for Media Studies, New Delhi, illustrates that in the forthcoming election the gross expenditure will be increased about three fold to last parliamentary election in 2009. Not only would the bulk of expenditure would be unprecedented in the history of the nation, but on this rare occasion we would stand only second to United States in the worldwide comparison of electoral expenditure. Although the number took many by surprise, given the enormous difference of economic standard between India and U.S. and difference between purchasing power parity, it also raises the question who would make such a huge investment and for what reason.
Historically the democratic process (in any part of the world), is influenced by people with deep pockets. This is perhaps the biggest open secret of the democratic discourse. Everyone seems to know this to an extent, yet everyone overlooks it as a necessary evil. But recently the spending in India has really sky-rocketed with major parties starting early, using technologies like hologram, and spending millions in maligning the opponents along with self-promotion: the rule of the game not only has been bent but changed altogether.
It may be read in two ways: one, the ruling class is a bit concerned and can’t foresee the upshot if someone like Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or any regional party with anti-neoliberal agenda comes to power which apart from moderates like Kejriwal, has too many people from fringes, people the establishment cannot predict and thus dreads. Another indication is that the ruling class really wants Modi in power badly. With all the strides towards ‘brave-new’ Indian economy that were taken during UPA govt., a non-Congress, non-BJP govt. emergence may bear too much of a risk. People like Medha Patkar vying in election with agenda like opposition to Delhi-Mumbai Industrial corridor or housing right for all are a dire omen for the powerful.
From an economic perspective, this might not be a dreadful thing entirely. This process essentially aids for a huge amount of black money to re-enter the mainstream circulation, thus boosting many aspect of the economic ladder. This enormous amount is not used to built or mend infrastructure or to manufacture anything but some cheap entertainment in the name of political bickering, a meager amount is used to bribe voters, thus eluding them to feel ‘empowered’ for a fleeting moment, while leaving them in the shamble of a system in which they are hopelessly buried.