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Indian electoral exercise becoming big biz for many

Wednesday, 07 April 2004, 07:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: For Anil Bhai, the biggest manufacturer of election publicity material in the Indian capital's sprawling and jostling Sadar Bazaar, elections are a good time to make money.

With political parties of all hues vying with one another to buy posters, banners, cardboard cut-outs, stickers, badges and tattoos, Anil Bhai is upbeat about business prospects in the run-up to the parliamentary elections later this month.

"Elections are a good time for us to earn a lot of money," said Anil Bhai, pausing to wipe the sweat off his brow as political party representatives throng his shop and haggle over prices of the publicity materials.

The mammoth poll paraphernalia machine in the bazaar, a dank maze of hole-in-the-wall shops lining narrow roads, is expected to churn billions of rupees of business in the election period.

"This year's campaign essentially highlights the role of money in Indian general elections," said N. Bhaskara Rao, director of the Centre for Media Studies, a New Delhi-based public policy outfit.

"Record breaking campaign expenditure by political parties and individual candidates and new ways to get large, unregulated amounts into campaigns have nullified the official spending limits," Rao told IANS.

The Election Commission limits poll expenses of candidates to 2.5 million ($57,162) per constituency and less in some states.

According to a study conducted by the Centre for Media Studies, a staggering 50 billion ($1.14 billion) would be spent in conducting the 14th parliamentary election, triple the amount in the last nationwide vote held in 1999.

While as much as 25 billion ($571.6 million) will be spend by the Election Commission and state governments for conducting the electoral exercise, the remaining 25 billion will flow out of the pockets of political parties and candidates.

"Neither the political parties nor the candidates even think about the official limit when it comes to campaigning expenditure," said Rao.

"Our study shows that one-third of the constituencies will spend twice the official slab on campaigning while half of the constituencies will spend 50 percent more than the prescribed limit."

The bulk of the expenditure goes in organising public meetings, hiring vehicles and aircrafts, buying publicity materials, and recruiting manpower for organisational activities.

An estimated 675 million voters will elect 543 members of parliament for another five years, with the results known on May 13.

The more resourceful among the candidates reportedly deploy between 75 and 125 vehicles. By conservative estimates, around 150,000 vehicles will be used across the country for over 30 days at a cost of more than 6.5 billion ($148.6 million).

The parties will also spend about 3 billion ($68.5 million) on public meetings and an estimated 11.51 billion ($263 million) on advertising.

As much as, 1 billion ($23 million) is likely to be spent by various parties to rent 40 helicopters and 20 aircrafts to ferry senior leaders. Corporate houses this election are expected to pump in at least 6 billion ($137 million).

"The good thing about leasing aircrafts during the election time is that the business is very regular," said Anil Kakkar, chief executive officer of International Air Charter Ltd.

"In normal days, I charge 60,000 per hour for chopper lease but in the election time the rates are hiked to 70,000 to 80,000 for an hour. But despite the rate hikes, the demand is huge.

"All my choppers are currently being used in the political campaigning. I get at least five to six queries daily for leasing choppers. I wish I had three-four more choppers."

Economist D.H. Pai Panandiker says the massive poll spending this year will increase income generation, especially for people involved in the unorganised industry, and, therefore, quicken economic growth.

"Large-scale spending on campaigns does have a spin-off impact on the economy. It triggers more spending in the domestic market and generates temporary employment for scores of illiterate or semi-literate people.

"The consumer spending will definitely go up further as a result of the increased cash flow in the market. But these are all short-term economic positives."

Source: IANS
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