Will Deep Pockets Grant Electoral Advantage To BJP?

The Bharatiya Janata Party is India's richest political party with more than four times the income of its closest rival, the Indian National Congress.

The BJP's total income has risen to Rs 1,027 crore as of March this year compared with Rs 968 crore in 2014-15, when it came to power, according to Election Commission's data.

For the Congress, the income fell by more than half to Rs 225 crore by March 2017. It’s yet to disclose FY18 numbers.

While it's not surprising for the party in power to receive more money, does that bring electoral gains?

Absolutely, says Jagdeep Chhokar of the Association for Democratic Reform. The more money a candidate possesses, the higher are the chances of winning in the five states that go to polls. The BJP is surely using its resources to build an image.

Data from the Broadcast Audience Research Council shows that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party ran more advertisements on television than even consumer brands like Santoor, Dettol and Colgate.

Not just that, the BJP's audit report filed with the Election Commission shows the party received Rs 210 crore from donations via electoral bonds. That's 95 percent of the total worth of bonds issued in March this year. The Congress has not yet submitted its audit report.

Political funding in India needs to be more transparent, said Shankkar Aiyar, a political economy analyst. What worries him is the impact of public electoral funding on policy decisions.

"“The aspect of money in India has a multiplier effect because what is shown is only an indicator of what is hidden.”" - Shankkar Aiyar, Political Economy Analyst

Having deep pockets could also have an impact on social media, which is increasingly becoming a tool to influence voters.

The government has been unable to keep a check on social media during elections as many groups continue to broadcast messages even during the silent period, according to SK Mendiratta, former legal advisor to the Election Commission. "Social media groups can wreak havoc on the electoral system."

Brand consultant Harish Bijoor said social media can be a great equaliser when it comes to individuals using the platform to express their views. But that becomes a completely different story when a political party uses it, he said.

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