Mumbai: More than half of India’s lawmakers running for re-election to parliament reported a 300% increase in their assets since the last ballot five years ago, a survey conducted by a corruption watchdog said.
Candidates in the world’s largest democracy must declare their financial assets under Election Commission rules meant to promote transparency and probity in public life.
Declarations filed by 300 members of the outgoing parliament showed an average increase of Rs27.5 million ($555,000) in assets, including homes, cash and jewellery, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) said.
More than 40% of India’s 1.1 billion population live in poverty on less than $1.25 a day.
“Politics is a fairly remunerative profession,” said Jagdeep Chhokar, a founding member of ADR, which in 1999 sought changes to election laws to make candidates declare their assets.
“There is a fair amount of corruption in politics across the world, and India is no exception. There is really no knowing the extent of it, but like God, you know it is present,” he said.
A month-long vote to elect a new parliament ended on Wednesday, with the votes of India’s 700 million electors to be counted on 16 May.
While no firm figures are available, analysts say political parties have spent many millions of dollars in the election, despite an economic slowdown.
“Parties led by the ruling Congress and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have spent between $5 and $10 billion in the election,” said Surendra Srivastava, head of the Lok Satta Party, which has campaigned for clean politics.
Despite stringent election rules, ‘money for votes’ ethos still thrives in India, with politicians dishing out cash, food and liquor, a think tank survey found.
About one-fifth of people surveyed in a poll said that they had received cash for votes in state and general elections in the past 10 years, the Centre for Media Studies (CMS) said.
“Politics is the mother of all corruption in India,” said Bhaskara Rao, head of CMS, which conducted the poll among 18,000 people in 19 states.
Rao further said: “Money for votes is not limited to poor or rural voters, but a national phenomenon spread across rural-urban, rich-poor divides and different age groups and educational levels.”
“Much of this money is not accounted for and far surpasses the spending limit of Rs2.5 million per candidate, with some candidates spending at least ten times that amount,” he said.
Television exit polls show that neither Congress nor the BJP will win a clear majority. Both are trying to secure new allies, increasing the leverage of smaller players.
Such jostling for partners inevitably triggers allegations of money changing hands.
“The link between business and politics is worse now because the stakes are higher, there is so much uncertainty, businesses are hedging their bets and parties are going all out,” Rao said.