Nearly a year ago, veteran BJP leader Gopinath Munde had publicly admitted to having spent Rs8 crore during the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, which was way more than Election Commission's (EC) then expenditure limit of Rs40 lakh.
Munde later denied having made the statement in his reply to a notice served by EC. But, if sources are to be believed, the leader may have just told truth, looking at the way the upcoming poll is being fought.
According to sources, this limit doesn't exist at all for most candidates, specially those contesting from the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), with their individual spending touching up to Rs50 crore or more.
The EC has set a limit of Rs70 lakh for candidates in fray this time.
"The ongoing poll is a big money contest. The constituencies are huge and reaching out to every voter while canvassing is a steep task monetarily. So, this limit set by EC is coming across as a mere farce. The problem is the expenditure limit is set by those who have never contested an election," a political activist, close to a candidate, admitted.
The average number of voters in a Lok Sabha constituency is 16 lakh. The source said even if a candidate has to distribute voters' slip to only two-third of the total number of electors, the expenses s/he will incur would be half of the set limit. In addition to this, money is spent on setting up election office, arranging for food and water, distribution of pamphlets, installation of hoardings, and rallies.
"These are all administrative and formal ways of spending money. But the poll game is more about influencing voters through informal ways," the source said.
Explaining the 'informal' ways of incurring expenses, the source said a candidate who is sure of receiving party ticket for election starts preparing for Lok Sabha polls at least a year in advance by tapping community groups.
"It begins with Navratri, Ganeshotsav and Eid. Then, at the beginning of the year, there are pilgrimages to places like Shirdi. People have started celebrating Ram Navmi and Hanuman Jayanti too by organising bhandaras. This is the time when money, in the form of cash, is distributed to lure the public. But the expenses made by a politico can't be considered under the Rs70-lakh limit as the money is distributed in advance, while the code of conduct is applicable for a contestant only after s/he files nomination," the source claimed.
Political commentator Uday Nirgudkar said, "Rs70 lakh is sufficient only for administrative expenses. In constituencies where there are over 1,500 polling booths, the money required to man them is huge.
Nowadays, there are few committed activists, but there are 'available' workers who need to be paid. It is a vicious cycle. Politicians pump in money to win polls and later mint money after getting elected."
A city politician, however, said voters too are responsible for the situation. "Forget slum dwellers, even middle-class people accept money for maintenance works, clearing electricity bills, installing water pumps etc in lieu of supporting a candidate. They are not bothered about what work the candidate has done, but only care about the money s/he can splurge," he said.
Chief electoral officer Nitin Gadre said the EC has set up teams to keep vigil.
Show me the money!
On an average, there are 16 lakh voters in a constituency. If a candidate has to distribute just voters' slips, with the cost being Rs3-5 per slip, the expenses touch Rs30-50 lakh even if only 2/3 of the constituency is covered
Also, community groups and activists are getting kickbacks. According to sources, a city candidate has distributed Rs4 crore to his MLA-supporters and Rs3 lakh to corporators, all informally
Setting up booths takes up anywhere between Rs50,000 and Rs1 lakh
Depending on the area and certainty of getting votes, candidates are distributing anywhere between Rs200 and Rs3,000 to every person. In Navi Mumbai, sources said, a dominant candidate is offering Rs3,000 per vote