Jagdeep Chhokar, founder, and trustee of Association for Democratic Reforms tells Sahil Makkar that the political parties which have collected money without declaring it will be worst hit by demonetization.
What is your view of the National Democratic Alliance government’s decision to demonetize Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes?
On the face of it, this is a good idea. But there are two or three questions. The first question is how this decision would be implemented. Implementation is not a two-day affair; it is slightly long-term. The second thing is the motivation behind it. If the purpose is to reduce black money, which is the outcome of a process, then this move will at best clean up what economists call the stock of black money. But it will not change the flow or generation of black money. Stock and flow are two different things. If one were to take a cynical view, storing the newly generated black money might become easier with Rs 2,000 notes compared to the Rs 1,000 notes. The fact is, unless we deal with the generation of black money, we don’t get anywhere.
Do you think cleaning up of the existing black money stock will have some impact on Assembly elections next year?

If there is no black money in society or in the economy, there will be no black money in the elections as well. Election doesn’t generate black money; rather, it is an occasion to spend the money. Some people sarcastically say elections offer an opportunity to convert black money into white.
For the past few years, the Election Commission (EC) has been trying to control the use of money in the elections. It wants candidates and political parties to declare the expenditure incurred during the polls. Though there is a limit on the amount to be spent during the elections, it is not fixed by the EC; it is fixed by the government. Political parties are not restricted by any limit, candidates are. They have to furnish expenditure details, post the elections.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, we got hold of figures relating to the election expenditure of 6,753 candidates. Of them, only four candidates accepted they had spent more than the limit — and all four lost the election. Another 30 candidates said they spent 90 to 95 percent of the funds. The remaining 6,719 candidates said they had spent only 50 to 55 percent of the limit. There is a clamor that the expenditure limit should be increased, but looking at the data one of the election commissioners said if 99 percent of the candidates are spending 50 percent of the funds, then the limit should be decreased. In the last Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, the EC found Rs 750 crore in unclaimed cash, which means a large amount of money changes hands during the elections. 

But does the EC have the powers to effect any change?
The EC has the power to act only after the model code of conduct comes into effect. Political parties make arrangements before the elections are announced. So when the elections are announced they only distribute the money. If that be true, then electioneering activities in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab must have been at a fever pitch for the last several months. It is possible that the political parties have already made arrangements. The another possibility is some parties got wind of the move by the central government and acted in time. Those who were not alert or had sources of information and did not make prior arrangements will suffer in the elections. If no party had a clue, then these elections will be clean and less money will be used.
It is being said that as the Bharatiya Janata Party is in power, it took care of its accounts and now obviously has an advantage over the Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SP) and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)....
Let us not forget that the Akalis are in power with the BJP, so I don’t know how many firewalls exist. Yes, it is being widely said that the BSP accepts money from candidates. But I don’t know if the BSP is alone in this activity. So I don’t want to comment on any party, individual . No party seems to allot tickets in a fair and transparent manner. They are given on the basis of some vague thing called winnability. But 30 percent of the candidates have criminal cases pending against them. In some parties it is 50 per cent and in some, 100 percent. It is not zero in any. I don’t know if the BSP is worse than other parties, but it is a fact that it doesn’t declare any money received as donation above Rs 20,000. The BSP says that it is a small party organization and doesn’t accept large donations. It stands to reason that all donations above Rs 20,000 are in cash. So parties which collected money without declaring it will have a problem. All the money they have hoarded will become useless. 

This means that they will not be able to influence voters....
The influencing of voters through money, I think, is a canard spread by political parties. Voters take money from whoever is giving it to them. If money were getting votes, then the same party should win all the elections.
Then why there is a rise in expenditure in all the elections?
I agree there has been a rise in election expenditure. But it is speculation that the rise in expenditure is on account of money spent on voters. There are intermediaries and political workers who take the money and don’t give it to voters. Blaming voters, in my view, is unfair. This is a perception created by political parties. If the parties are paragons of virtue, why don’t they declare how much money they have? When the Central Information Commissioner (CIC) ruled after looking at hard data that the six national political parties are public authorities under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, then why don’t they follow the CIC directions? The case is now in the
Supreme Court.
If political parties are brought under the RTI, will they no longer be able to evade laws in one form or the other?
The RTI Act is an empowerment for citizens. They know how to use it. Political parties have to be accountable. If they keep on generating black money, people will keep on investigating them. It is an ongoing thing and there is nothing like 100 per cent transparency. Similarly, there should not be 100 percent opacity.

Since the Uttar Pradesh and Punjab Assembly elections are four months away, won’t political parties have a window to generate fresh black money?
It is possible, provided the people have faith in the political parties. If no party got wind of it, these elections would be cleaner and less expensive. Otherwise, the next elections would be like those we have already seen.

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