[Answered] Discuss the implications of having no limits on political parties’ expenditure during elections. How does it affect the electoral competitiveness and democratic ethos in India?

Introduction: Give a brief context to the question

Body: Implications of no limit on expenditure & effect on electoral competitiveness.

Conclusion: Way forward

The recent trend over the last two decades where both Central and State governments spend a lot on advertisements before elections to the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies is deeply disturbing. In India, there are no limits on the expenditure of political parties during elections while the election expenditure limit for candidates is ₹95 lakh per Lok Sabha constituency in larger States and ₹75 lakh in smaller States.

Implications of no limit on expenditure

  • Unfair Playing Field: Rich political parties or candidates can control the election process by outspending their rivals due to unlimited spending. As a result, there is an unequal playing field, giving larger or wealthier parties a clear edge over smaller or less well-off ones. As such, it subverts the electoral ideals of equal opportunity and fair competition.
  • Influence of Money Power: Unrestricted spending allows money power to have an excessive amount of influence over politics. To influence voters, political parties or candidates with significant financial means may use strategies like extravagant advertising campaigns, giving presents or favors to supporters, or even blatant bribery. This undercuts the idea of free and fair elections and jeopardizes the integrity of the democratic process.

Affect on electoral competitiveness and democratic ethos

  • Corruption and Cronyism: Unrestricted spending fosters cronyism and corruption in the political system. Rich contributors or special interest organizations that contribute money in exchange for favors or concessions on policy might make political parties subservient to them. The public’s confidence in the democratic process is damaged as a result, undermining the independence and integrity of political decision-making.
  • Erosion of Democratic Values: The democratic principles of accountability, openness, and representation are compromised by the lack of spending caps. People may grow weary of politics and believe that it is more and more influenced by special interests than by the desires of the people. The cornerstone of democracy is weakened by this deterioration of democratic values, which can also cause citizens to become cynical and indifferent.

Conclusion

Political parties should pay heed to Supreme Court guidelines for the regulation of government advertisements & recent verdict which has struck down the electoral bonds scheme that will remove opacity in legal donations. Finally, consensus is needed among all the political parties regarding norms of such state funding advocated by Indrajit Gupta Committee (1998) and the Law Commission report (1999). The proposed electoral reforms like a ceiling on expenditure by parties, party’s ‘financial assistance’ to its candidate should also be within the limits of election expenditure prescribed for a candidate & government advertisements should be banned six months before any general election should be implemented at earliest for creating a level playing field and ensuring free and fair elections.

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