In the 2012 Assembly elections, candidates of the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party came in the third or fourth position in many constituencies. In the Rudrapur constituency, the winner won by a 5 per cent margin while the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party candidate drew 5.6 per cent votes.

The Suheldev Samaj Party was clearly in a make-or-break position. In Bithari Chainpur constituency in the 2012 Assembly elections, the first and third positions went to Muslim candidates. The Ittehad-E-Millait Council’s candidate, who came third, polled 14 per cent votes, and may have diverted the voteshare of the winning candidate, also a Muslim, who won by just 1 per cent margin. Communal identity was certainly a significant factor in how people voted in Uttar Pradesh. In 2014-16, ECI delisted about a thousand parties, many of whose addresses did not tally with the commission’s records.

Evidently, that has not precluded numerous parties to be set up after 2018. During the 16th Lok Sabha elections in 2014, out of 1689 political parties which took part in the election, process, 1652 drew a blank (98 per cent) and failed to get any seat and only 37 others had their representation in the last Lok Sabha. Rajasthan’s assembly elections in 2018 showed that in a contest with two major parties, a minor difference in vote-share could lead to a large difference in seat-share.

The Congress vote share was just 50 basis points higher than that of the BJP, but resulted in a difference of 26 seats, with the Congress nearly getting an absolute majority with 99 out of 199 declared seats (polling in one seat was postponed). It is here that small parties play a major role in fragmenting votes in a constituency even though they do not win and most of them forfeit their security deposits.

Twenty- seven of the 199 seats in Rajasthan went to these small parties . In GE-2014, in Ganganagar, National Unionist Zamindara Party (NUZP), which won two seats in the Assembly, got 100,000 votes and was the second runner- up. In Dausa, the National People’s Party (NPEP), which has four legislators in the Assembly, pushed the Congress candidate to the third spot in Dausa constituency. NPEP’s state president Kirodi Meena returned to the BJP, his parent party, and is now a Rajya Sabha MP; probable reward for having pushed the INC candidate out in Dausa .

In 2014, the BJP won 282 seats with barely 31 per cent of the popular vote, i.e. a rough average of about 9 Lok Sabha seats for each percentage of votes polled. Assuming that in GE-2019, the small as well as new parties account for a conservative 3-5 per cent of the popular vote, these parties could well translate their minuscule share to 27-45 seats in the Lok Sabha, the kingmakers in the event of a toss-up between the INC and the BJP.

Add a 10-12 per cent redistribution of minority votes to non-BJP parties could potentially add another 90-108 seats. Likewise, a modest 10-12 per cent shift of the SC and ST vote away from the BJP could account for another 90-108 seats open to canvassing by national parties. Given the utter lack of scruples and ethics, particularly amongst leaders of these small caste/communitybased parties, GE-2019 may well see 207-261 seats up for grabs, may be for ‘prices’ as high as Rs. 25-30 crore each, even far more.

No surprises therefore, when SC MP Udit Raj, shortchanged by the BJP and denied re-election, promptly joined the INC. CMS estimates that GE-2019 could see Rs. 50000 crore ($ 7 billion) being pumped in by participating parties. About $6.5 billion was spent during the U.S. presidential and Congressional races in 2016, according to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks money in American politics.

In effect, CMS’s estimate is about 40 per cent over 2014 (against average inflation rate of 5 per cent) or $8/head of India’s population, 60 per cent of which lives on less than $ 3 a day. CMS’s estimate presumably factored in generous one-off largesse of a mindboggling Rs. 100-125 crore per winning MP that could potentially account for Rs 20700-32625 crore of the combined poll expenses of all parties, although CMS shied away from such estimates.

In a remarkably frank conversation sponsored in 2012 by the Observer Research Foundation, parliamentarians from both INC and the BJP discussed spending as much as Rs 20 crore ($3.3m) to win seats where the official limit was Rs 16 lakh ($26,000) . ECI has reported that cash seized during the 2014 Lok Sabha election was equivalent to 75 per cent of the donation received in cash at the Sai Baba temple in Shirdi in 2011.

The quantity of drugs/narcotics seized was roughly the same as the weight of three adult male Asiatic elephants and a baby elephant put together (an adult male Asiatic elephant weighs nearly 5,000 kg.). Liquor seizures would easily fill nearly six-and-a-half Olympic- sized swimming pools. According to the Election Commission of India, as on April 26, 2019, cash and goods (drugs, liquor, gold, silver etc) worth Rs 3,176.73 crore have been seized across the country. Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Delhi, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh are the top five states/UTs in cash distribution.

This boils down to more than Rs 100 crore every day. For drugs/narcotics, the seized quantity (61,903.93 kg) since March 26 is already 262.64 per cent more than the total quantity seized in 2014. Gujarat topped in distribution of psychotrophic substances worth Rs 524.34 crore, i.e. 44 per cent of total seizures worth Rs 1184.60 crore. Tamil Nadu topped the list in distribution of gold and other precious metals worth Rs 708.71 crore, i.e. 75 per cent of the total seizure worth Rs 945.78 crore .

It is also quite likely that a substantial part of such illicit distribution is done by small parties and new parties without participating in elections. That way, even if they are caught by law enforcers, the larger ones get away without a blemish. The dormant parties that seldom, if at all, participate in elections have become the bane of electoral politics in India. India’s fledgling democracy is already in fast transit towards what can be called “mockocracy” for which all Indians must collectively bear the cross.

Therefore, voters need to overcome their personal community/caste prejudices and cast their vote in the national interest in the ongoing general election and avoid voting for very small or new parties.

(Concluded)

(The writer is a senior public policy analyst and commentator)