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Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana saw voters reject some high net worth candidates including two with assets of over Rs100 crore each

The sharp swing in voter preference for the Bharatiya Janata Party, in general, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in particular, also worked to offset other factors. Photo: Hindustan Times New Delhi: The just concluded elections to the state assemblies of Haryana and Maharashtra have revealed an interesting trend: high individual net worth alone was not sufficient to ensure victory. An analysis of the results shows that only five of the 17 candidates who had disclosed assets worth more than Rs.100 crore were elected. Vanquished among the 17 were the Congress party’s Savitri Jindal from Hisar and Haryana Lokhit Party’s Gopal Kanda from Sirsa assembly in Haryana. The trend is significant because the influence of money power, like dynastic connections, has proved to be an entry barrier into politics—holding back efforts to broadbase political participation. “A very substantial amount of money is required to contest elections and, therefore, money power ends up being an entry barrier for other candidates unless the party really supports him or her,” said S.L. Rao, a former director general of the National Council for Applied Economic Research. “Elections in India cost a lot of money, whether it is in the campaign, advertising or volunteers. So someone who has a lot of money is definitely in a more advantageous position,” he said. “The influence of money power becomes more dangerous when those who have that extra money end up buying votes. However, it is a trend which has been on the decline over the last few elections in the country.” To be sure, the sample size is not large enough to substantiate a larger claim on the declining influence of money power in politics. Yet, it is a fact that closer scrutiny by the Election Commission and mandatory disclosures by political parties are a dampener; at the same time, the sharp swing in voter preference for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in general, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in particular, also worked to offset other factors. Jindal, a two-time Congress legislator from Hisar, is the mother of former Union minister Naveen Jindal, who is chairman of Jindal Steel and Power Ltd. She had been expected to overcome the anti-incumbency wave against the Congress, but lost by a margin of 13,646 votes. Similarly, Kanda, a sitting member of the legislative assembly (MLA), multi-millionaire and owner of MDLR Airlines that shut in 2009, who started his own party earlier this year, lost the Sirsa seat. Data compiled by the New Delhi-based Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR) reveals that while Jindal had declared movable assets of more than Rs.55 crore and immovable assets of Rs.58 crore, Kanda’s assets were estimated at over Rs.114 crore. Jindal and Kanda lost to Kamal Gupta of the BJP and Makhan Lal Singla of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), respectively, who had declared assets of Rs.1 crore and Rs.72 crore. Jindal and Kanda could not be reached for comment. While Jindal’s office said she was not available, calls to Kanda’s phone were answered. The Congress lost in both Maharashtra and Haryana, being pushed to third place. While the BJP won a simple majority in Haryana, it was the single largest party in Maharashtra and is in talks to form the government. In both Maharashtra and Haryana, the candidates with the maximum declared assets lost the elections. In Maharashtra, Mohit Kamboj, a BJP aspirant from Dindoshi constituency with assets of above Rs.353 crore and, in Haryana, Ravi Chauhan, an independent candidate from Ateli with assets over Rs.212 crore, lost. While some candidates with high individual net worth may have been unsuccessful, data shows that, in general, both assemblies have grown richer than they were when the last election was held in 2009. While the average assets per MLA have nearly doubled in the two states since 2009, the number of MLAs with assets of over Rs.1 crore, too, has risen. “Money still seems to be playing an important role in elections, but it is true there are big-ticket losses even for those candidates with a strong financial background. Candidates can no longer rely on a strong financial back-up alone,” said Anjali Bhardwaj, founder, Satark Nagrik Sangathan, a not-for-profit organization which monitors the accountability of elected representatives. “Increasingly, there are other determining factors like voters judging candidates and parties based on performance,” she added. In the 16th general election as well as in the two assembly elections, voter aspirations, especially among the youth, emerged as influential. Anti-incumbency was partly attributed to allegations of corruption in high office against the Congress and the fact that the economy was unable to generate more jobs even though it witnessed record growth in the 10 years ending 2014. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which contested the Delhi assembly elections in December as well as the April-May general election by following a model of crowd funding, says the use of money power in elections should be curbed to ensure fair polls. “The use of money and muscle power is increasing in elections. If we talk about free and fair elections, the use of money should stop. It has been the party’s stand from the beginning,” said Sanjay Singh, a member of the AAP’s political affairs committee. “You cannot say you can only win with money but you can put pressure and influence with the use of money. There is no assurance of winning but it plays a role to change the voters’ mind” Pretika Khanna contributed to the story.

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