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Dr. Trilochan Sastry, chairman and founder of the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), blogs for Yahoo on Elections 2014. ADR’s work in strengthening democracy includes pioneering legal cases that made it mandatory for all election candidates to file affidavits and make public their earnings. 

This is the first of a series of blogs that will continue through April. Dr Sastry’s blogs will look at everything from one prism – the link between you, your government and this election. 

Today, take a look at the link between your hard-earned cash and these elections.

How the new government will affect your family life

The government plans to spend Rs 17,63,000 crore of our money in 2014-15 per the budget tabled by the Finance Minister in Parliament. Most of us can’t even imagine what this amount of money is. It translates into a little over Rs 14,500 per person each year, or nearly Rs 75,000 per family per year. If a government lasts five years, this translates into nearly Rs 3.75 lakh per family over five years. That is enough and more money for getting all the services and facilities we need. The more hopeful may ask: enough to build the India of our dreams?

Whose money is this and where does the government get it? 

It is entirely from the taxes we pay. Even the poorest and the non-earning students pay tax when they buy clothes, mobiles, soap, toothpaste and other items of daily consumption. We end up paying sales tax and VAT, which we often do not know or think about. The well-off pay income tax, companies pay corporate tax, excise, and so on. In short, the government’s money is the people’s money – our money. Here’s what happens to your money during elections. During elections, the ruling party or alliance gets control over this huge amount of money. 

The billion-dollar question (actually, it is a 1,500-billion-dollar question over five years) then is: Whom should we entrust this money to? Would we give even Rs 100 for safekeeping to someone we don’t trust?

What do people of this country want done with this money? 

ADR did the country’s largest-ever survey – perhaps the world’s largest-ever survey – to find this out in February 2014. It turns out that people want employment or jobs, basic essential services like clean drinking water, electricity, education, healthcare, infrastructure like good roads, public transport, and finally, law and order and security for women. They want several other things, but as far as expectations from the government are concerned, these are the top priorities. There are some variations across India and some variations between the well-off and the poor, the rural and the urban. But the needs are almost the same across India, across rural and urban India, and surprisingly even between the poor and the well-off. So, as people, we are one. The money we pay into a common pool called taxes is ours. But does the government deliver? Does its budget even reflect people’s priorities?

You may be shocked to know that 36.6% of the government’s expenses are interest payments

That is because the government keeps spending more than it gets and borrows more and more money every year. Most of our money is going as interest payments and a lot of it as salaries and pensions to Government servants. Very little is spent on the people’s priorities described earlier. So should we worry about elections? You bet we need to. The only chance we get in a democracy is during elections. This is the time to act; this is the time to ensure that we get the right people into Parliament. If we don’t vote, we have only ourselves to blame. A good counter question is: will my one vote make any difference? We will come back to this in a later blog. And this blog is really not for the faint-hearted or the cynical.

How will you choose whom to vote for?

If we have to vote, what kind of people do we vote for? We need to think coolly and calmly about it. Candidates and political parties are desperate for your vote. They hire campaign managers, communications experts, promise all sorts of things, say nasty things about their rivals, and spend thousands of crores. Where does this money come from? Will a person who spends so much money work for me after winning, or will s/he only work to recover his/her money or give out favors to those who funded him/her? We need honest, capable MPs who can deliver results and who work for the public good. If someone is capable but does not even have the intention of working for the people, what is the use? 

Would I trust my money with this candidate?

Each one of us needs to ask three questions: 

a)    Would I trust my money with this candidate? 
b)    Is s/he capable of delivering results? 
c)    Is s/he speaking sincerely or merely power-hungry? 

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