The make-or-break ingredient for winning a Lok Sabha election

A median Congress candidate had a wealth of  ₹5 crore, and the BJP’s median candidate had  ₹4 crore. (PTI)
A median Congress candidate had a wealth of 5 crore, and the BJP’s median candidate had 4 crore. (PTI)


  • The secret lies in wealth. The wealth gap between candidates and eventual winners has grown sharply in the last four Lok Sabha elections, showing that polls are swinging more and more in favour of richer candidates who have the financial clout to contest and win

It’s that time again when politicians start filing nominations to contest Lok Sabha elections, and are required to make honest declarations about various aspects of their lives through sworn affidavits to the Election Commission of India. The size of their bank balance and other assets, a key part of these affidavits, becomes a matter of immense public scrutiny. Here’s one reason why.

The gulf between candidates and eventual winners in terms of the wealth they possess has increased sharply over time. In 2004, a median Lok Sabha candidate boasted of assets worth 6.2 lakh, while winners had median assets worth 55.2 lakh. That’s a factor of nearly nine times. But in 2019, the two numbers were 27 lakh and 4.8 crore—a factor of 18 times.

This suggests that elections are swinging more and more in favour of richer candidates who have the financial clout to contest and win. The sheer cost of successful electioneering could be why candidates with less wealth are failing to make a mark. Independent candidates are in general less wealthy, but even excluding them, the gap described above has increased from 3.8 times in 2004 to 9.7 times in 2019.

This is based on a Mint analysis of data compiled from the website, which is run by non-profit Association for Democratic Reforms. This website lists down data from the affidavits of most election candidates. The data for the candidates who have already filed their nominations for the 2024 elections, which start next week, are not yet available in an aggregated manner. Medians were considered to avoid outliers, but the trends hold using averages, too.

Race of super-rich

The median assets of a winner in the Lok Sabha elections grew 8.8 times between 2004 and 2019—a period that saw India’s per capita income grow 5.5 times. Assets and incomes are widely different and cannot be benchmarked against each other, but this gap in some ways could indicate that the collective wealth of the members of the lower House of India’s Parliament has grown faster than that of India.

In the 2019 elections, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) fielded the richest candidates among major parties, with the median wealth amounting to 13.4 crore, followed by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) ( 7.4 crore). These two parties also saw their medians rise the most since 2004: respectively, 17.4 and 21.1 times.

A median Congress candidate had a wealth of 5 crore, and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) median candidate had 4 crore. Among major parties, only five—the fifth being the All India Trinamool Congress—fielded candidates with median assets of more than 1 crore. This analysis looked at select parties that fielded the highest number of candidates and also won the most seats (the AIADMK, which is left with only one Lok Sabha member currently, was considered based on its 2019 standings).

Poor states do well

The trends are similar to those seen in a Plain Facts analysis from 2022, which considered all state elections over the preceding 15 years: winning candidates were more likely to be super-rich in states, too. The analysis had shown that while Congress candidates tended to be richer consistently, those of the BJP were seen catching up rapidly.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Andhra Pradesh had the richest candidates, with median assets worth 1.3 crore, followed by Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir ( 1.2 crore each), Uttarakhand ( 1 crore), and Rajasthan ( 79 lakh). Ironically, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, which fare poorly on financial metrics, figured among the top 10 major states in terms of fielding rich candidates, ahead of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. (This analysis excludes non-independent candidates and smaller states with fewer than 20 such candidates.)

As the festival of democracy begins, the edge that money gives contestants will be difficult to ignore in 2024, too.

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