New Delhi

State-funding of elections is a categorical imperative and there's a window now

Drawing room conversations are replete with easy assumptions on the issues of the day and one may argue that's the nature of the beast. That, however, doesn't or at least shouldn't prevent thinking citizens from having their own list of the most facile assumptions made. Topping that list, in this case, is the acceptance of the fact that the increase in net worth of a political party is directly proportionate to the amount and/or period it has been in poweras a fait accompli. Because when we are ‘okay with that' in the name of 'not being naïve' or 'that's the way the system works', we are collectively letting ourselves down. Not because we are overly idealistic and unaware of the reality, read money, required by parties to fight an election, keep the flock together and to meet the demands of their supporters, but because we have convinced ourselves this system is set in stone.

These reflections acquire urgency in wake of an Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) report released in the Capital earlier this week which collated the assets and liabilities declared by the seven national political parties from 2004-2005 to 2014-2015. Some highlights of the document were that the Congress had the maximum assets till 2014-15 when the BJP overtook it and that in terms of the reserve fund (amount set aside by organisations for expenditure after subtracting liabilities from assets), the Trinamul Congress' grew by 13,447 per cent, the BSP's by 1,194 per cent, the BJP's by 700 per cent and the Congress' by close to 200 per cent. While other parties have yet to react the BJP to its credit did, stating that its rise in income and declared assets isalso a reflection of the party's campaign to strive towards transparency in funding including receiving donations by cheque and ensuring all tax returns are duly filed. What is inescapable, however, is that even a cursory mapping of the growth of assets/reserve funds of all the major political parties with their political ascendency/stints in power in various States and at the Centre shows that these have been largely co-terminus.

As solutions go to this problem of what amounts to buying influence (how much of it is fact and how much fiction is another debate), the state-funding of elections as the BJP and specifically LK Advani has been saying for decades now is the only viable one. The Congress' sudden interest in the idea is plain hypocritical and directly related to its dimming electoral fortunes; it had no time to even entertain forget implementing this move for the decades it was in power and the cash was flowing into its coffers. The attitude of regional leaders is very likely to depend on whether they are in power or not while the Left parties have historically been in favour of state-funding of elections. Which leaves the BJP, which has traditionally been a proponent of the move but, when the Congress at its apogee relentlessly blocked any such initiative,worked its way around it and today tops the assets list. Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi's clarion call of "nation first, party second", however, it may want to consider an omnibus political deal with all parties wherein a consensus can be evolved on simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies that would be state-funded. Any takers? 

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