Election officials have seized a record $36 million dollars or 217 crores of cash concealed in cars, private planes and even ambulances that they say was destined to buy off voters and pay for expenses over and above the spending limit.
Opinion polls show the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies coming to power thanks to the popularity of its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and widespread disgust with the Congress party, whose last years in power have been dogged by corruption scandals and a sharp economic slowdown.
Cash seized in the three weeks since the staggered election was announced has already surpassed Rs. 190 crores for the whole of the 2009 ballot period, the commission said.
Voting in this year’s election began on April 7 and winds up on May 12.
The Election Commission has also recovered 100 kg of heroin, most of it in Punjab that has long been a transit point for drugs from Afghanistan, but is now itself India’s heaviest consuming opium state.
More than 10 million litres of liquor have been seized, too, over the past 20 days as politicians pour resources into an election that will cost an estimated $5 billion or 3000 crores by the time it ends, second only to the last US presidential election.
“The seizures that we have made of cash, liquor and drugs are far bigger than we had anticipated. The scale of the problem is immense,” PK Dash, who leads the expenditure monitoring effort at the independent Election Commission, told.
He attributed the increase to the growing number of business leaders getting involved in politics, as Asia’s third-largest economy gears up for an expected second generation of reforms to restore rapid growth.
“A couple of elections ago it was not such a game of money,” Dash said. “Now you have business people in politics, whereas earlier they were involved in managing their empires.”
Political funding remains opaque in India, with political parties refusing to disclose fully their sources of finance.
State funding has been mooted in the past to stop illicit spending, but the idea has never taken off.
Critics say a first-past-the-post system for electing lawmakers means the pressure on candidates to outspend their rivals is intense. And in a country where nearly a third of the population of 1.2 billion is estimated to live on less than $1 a day, relatively little money can go a long way.