In Bengal, Parties Bank on Frugal Means to Achieve Electoral Gains
Unlike neighbouring Assam and Bihar, Bengal’s candidates do not excessive wield money power, writes Mayank Mishra.
The Left parties have been out of power in West Bengal for nearly five years now. But their imprint on electoral politics has survived till date, at least on one count.
As West Bengal gears up for crucial electoral test that began today, latest available data clearly suggests that the state has bucked the trend of growing influence of money power in elections. The average assets of candidates contesting in West Bengal is less than one-third that of candidates in Assam. Even in the recently concluded elections in Bihar, the average candidate there was three times richer than in West Bengal.
Fewer Crorepati Candidates
What is more, there are fewer crorepati candidates in Bengal than other states that have gone to polls recently. While 21 per cent candidates in Assam have assets in excess of Rs 1 crore, there are only 12 per cent such candidates in West Bengal. Slightly less than one-fourth of all candidates who contested elections in Bihar last year had financial assets in excess of Rs 1 crore.
My analysis of recent elections also shows that the challengers are more likely to prefer richer candidates than the incumbents. This was true in case of the 2013 Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh assembly elections. And even in the case of Bihar, the BJP, which was the main challenger to the Nitish Kumar-led Mahagathbandhan, fielded significantly more crorepati candidates than the Janata Dal (United) or Lalu Prasad’s RJD.
Rising Cost of Campaigns
The rising cost of campaign finance is the likely explanation for growing preference for crorepati candidates, more so by the challenger, in most states. Studies have also shown that richer candidates are more likely to win elections. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, for instance, in as many as 34 per cent constituencies, candidates with highest declared assets eventually won the elections.
However, West Bengal has bucked this trend too. Data available so far show that average assets of the ruling Trinamool Congress candidates is significantly higher than that of the Congress, BJP or CPI(M) nominees.
Poll By Frugal Means
- The average assets of
candidates contesting in West Bengal is less than one-third that of candidates
- There are fewer crorepati
candidates in Bengal than other states that have gone to polls recently.
- In the 2009 Lok Sabha
elections, candidates with highest declared assets eventually won the elections
in as many as 34 per cent constituencies.
- West Bengal has bucked the
trend so far as it is more about perception of being humble in political discourse
of the state.
What explains this? The answer perhaps lies in how voters are mobilised in most parts, especially in Bengal’s rural areas. During the Left rule, booth management, which included elements of coercion, would be done by the panchayat-level Marxist workers. They would coax, cajole and, if needed, use violence to ensure victory for their candidates. With the change of guard in Kolkata’s Writers Building, most of the booth management agents have switched sides and now work for the TMC.
This structure has ensured that the cost of campaign finance can be kept at more manageable levels. For this, neither are fancy video raths required nor is there any need to maintain a fleet of vehicles to reach out to voters. There is very little extra cost of hiring personnel during elections for campaigning or booth management. With campaign costs still manageable, there is little urgency on the part of political parties to have candidates who have considerable money power to offer.
There is another reason why West Bengal has bucked the trend so far. It is more at the level of perception. The political discourse in the state is centred around hunger still. According to reports, in most of her rallies Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee never tires of boasting how she extended the reach of the Food Security Act from 3.5 crore to 6.5 crore people.
This is her party’s unique selling point and is seen by observers as the real clincher. With hunger being the focal point of elections, political parties will think many times over before launching ostentatious poll campaigns.
Given the way things are, even Mamata won’t mind following this Left tradition of a frugal election campaign as long as it pays rich electoral dividend.
(The writer is Consulting Editor, Business Standard, and contributes regularly to The Quint on politics and contemporary issues)
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