The Indian Express
Anjishnu Das
New Delhi

A recent ADR report showing BJP assets more than double that of all other national parties combined in 2021-22, and income 3 times the Congress's reflects a trend since 2013-14, with usual ups and downs at the time of polls

Among the national parties recognised by the Election Commission, only the BJP has seen its assets grow year upon year since 2013-14.

From Rs 781 crore when it first came to power at the Centre, its assets had reached Rs 6,047 crore in 2021-22, as per the latest year for which income tax returns are available. That put the BJP’s assets at nearly eight times the Congress’s, and more than double the income of all the parties combined.

The Association of Democratic Reforms, an independent research agency that tracks political parties, on Monday released a report, based on income-tax returns, on the assets and liabilities of eight national-level parties as of 2021-22.

The Election Commission recognises a party as ‘national’ if it has at least 2% of the seats in the Lok Sabha from three different states, at least 6% of the vote share in four states in the most recent state or general elections with at least four seats in the Lok Sabha, or is recognised as a state party in at least four states. National parties receive some benefits – for instance, their poll symbol is reserved for all elections, they are allotted land by the government for party offices, and they are allowed to have more star campaigners.

Currently, there are only six national parties – the BJP, Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), BSP, CPI(M), and the Meghalaya-based National People’s Party (NPEP).

The AAP was recognised as a national party earlier this year, while the Trinamool Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and CPI lost their national status.

However, the data on party finances, which is as of FY 2021-22, includes the following national parties: the BJP, Congress, Trinamool Congress, BSP, CPI(M), CPI, NCP and NPEP.

With a series of Assembly polls due this year, and with parties launching campaign activities for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, here’s a look at the finances of the national parties.

BJP’s assets more than double of all other national parties combined

In 2021-22, the BJP had Rs 6,047 crores in declared assets, more than seven times the assets held by the Congress. This was an eight-time rise since 2013-14. It was the only national party to see its assets grow consistently every year.

The Congress’s assets, in contrast, remained largely stuck at the same level – Rs 767 crore in 2013-14, a rise to Rs 929 crore in 2019-20, and again a fall to Rs 806 crore in 2021-22.

The last time the Congress’s assets were higher than the BJP’s was in 2012-13, when it was in power. Ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, which set off the Narendra Modi era, the Congress assets were worth Rs 586 crore, compared to the BJP’s Rs 464 crore.

The biggest gap the Congress had over the BJP in terms of assets was in 2008-09, when the UPA government was at its peak and was soon to begin its second term. At the time, while the Congress had Rs 612 crore worth of assets, the BJP stood at Rs 261 crore.

The next “richest” parties, over the past decade, have been the BSP, CPI(M) and Trinamool. Of the three, the TMC saw the biggest increase in its assets between 2013-14 and 2021-22, growing more than 18-fold, as it established itself in West Bengal. In the same period, the CPI(M) and BSP saw their assets grow 92% and 54%, respectively.

The NCP and CPI, which are no longer national parties, saw a decadal increase of 121% and 64%, respectively. The NPEP, the newest national party in this list, only had Rs 1.8 crore in assets.

In 2021-22, most parties’ assets were concentrated in fixed deposits, followed by fixed assets like property. In previous years, loans and advances made up a larger share of parties’ assets.

Rise in Congress liabilities

No party has had greater liabilities than the Congress since 2013-14. Between 2013-14 and 2021-22, it alone accounted for 84% of all national parties’ liabilities. In 2021-22, its liabilities dropped to their lowest level but still accounted for 67% of all national parties’. At the peak, its liabilities stood at Rs 461.7 crore, or more than half of the assets declared by the party in 2016-17.

After the Congress, CPI(M), TMC and BJP had the highest liabilities in the period. The BJP’s liabilities peaked in 2018-19, ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, at Rs 37.5 crore, while the CPI(M)’s liabilities reached their highest level of Rs 16.1 crore in 2020-21, before the Assembly elections in Kerala where the party is in power. The TMC hit a high in 2015-16, also ahead of the West Bengal Assembly polls, at Rs 12.1 crore. The BSP, however, amassed only Rs 7.2 crore in liabilities from 2013-14 to 2021-22.

For most parties, liabilities consist primarily of borrowings or overdraft from banks and other lenders.

Party earnings

Until 2012-13, the Congress’s income far outstripped that of other parties, including the BJP. But by 2013-14, the BJP earnings stood at Rs 674 crore compared to the Congress’s Rs 598 crore. Since then, the BJP’s income has raced ahead of other parties, and in 2021-22, exceeded the income of all the other national parties combined.

As of the last available figures, the BJP is the only party to have earned more than Rs 1,000 crore in a year. In 2019-20, the year of its landslide Lok Sabha win, the BJP’s income hit Rs 3,623 crore, more than three times the income of all the other national parties combined. In the previous year, the BJP’s income was almost double of all the other parties combined. Since 2014-15, the BJP has accounted for more than half of all national parties’ total income.

In the lead-up to the 2019 polls, while the BJP increased its income by about Rs 1,200 crore, the Congress’s income fell by Rs 236 crore. However, the Congress has held on to a mean base, with its annual income only dipping once below Rs 200 crore in this period, in 2016-17.

The other parties with considerable earnings are the TMC and CPI(M). Since the TMC became a national party in 2016, its annual earnings have grown 15-fold, from Rs 35 crore to Rs 546 crore. The earnings of the CPI(M), now into its second term in power in Kerala, were between Rs 100 crore and Rs 200 crore every year.

Most parties draw a majority of their income from voluntary donations. The Congress, unlike other parties, got a sizeable chunk of its income from the ‘sale of coupons and publications’. The Left parties tended to rely more on membership fees.

Notably, the BSP has never reported any income from donations; it got most of its income from bank interest and sale of assets between 2013-14 and 2021-22.

BJP also has the highest surplus

Though the BJP’s income far exceeds the Congress’s, it spends a far smaller proportion of it. In 2019-20, for instance, when it hit its peak income, the BJP spent just 45% of the same. That year, the BJP recorded a surplus of Rs 1,972 crore, despite it being an election year. In contrast, the Congress reported a deficit of Rs 316 crore.

While the Congress has frequently overspent and put itself into a deficit, the BJP is the only party (other than the CPI-M) to have reported a surplus every year from 2013-14 to 2021-22. Nevertheless, no party has spent more than the BJP on electioneering and operations since 2014-15. The BJP has spent more than 80% of its income only in two years over the past decade.

While the TMC’s rapid rise saw its expenditure grow 20-fold since it became a national party, the CPI(M) has managed to keep its expenditure, like its income, fairly stable.

Unsurprisingly, elections and publicity account for the largest chunk of parties’ expenditures. For the Left parties though, even in election years, administration and employee salaries have generally been the biggest expenditures.

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