It is quite plausible that the Lok Sabha 2009 elections may have been partly or largely funded through the subsequent food grain price rise that we have seen. The LS 2009 elections were by far the costliest elections with the stakes being really high and the Congress having spared no efforts in winning.
Contesting and winning elections is not an easy job. You need thousands of vehicles, manpower, food for the workers, banners and other promotional material, full time teams of strategists and so much more. The LS 2009 elections cost Rs. 10,000 crores. How do parties get this kind of money to spend? What was the spend per party and what different accounts? Do we have a detailed breakup of the accounts? Who are the official big donors? Even if we get to know the big donors there is a gigantic list of business interests who spend on the parties in cash and how does one account for that?
Even with the donors are people doing it for love of the political party? What is the pound of flesh being extracted if any? Could there be a policy of mutual favours and payments in kind?
One mutual favour policy could have been to receive funds for all the expenses during Mar-April 2009 and then repay with interest during May -Dec2009 by allowing for a sustained rice in prices of food grains. The mechanics of the same could have been an arrangement with the big traders of food grains about funding the various costs of contesting LS 2009 in response to which the political parties would take suitable measures to ensure that the food grain prices hover significantly high for some time once the government is formed. This is a perfect system and an arrangement with which business interests are most familiar and comfortable with. This is also like having a gigantic election IPO in which the millions of stakeholders make payments for keeping the organisation – democracy in this case – running.
While I will be reading further and forming my opinion something intuitively tells me that my hypothesis is correct.
The big traders would be the kind who deal in bulk wheat, rice, sugar etc. – the kinds who deal in million tonnes. There is no point raising money from small traders, the logistics of collection become very high and anyways with the big traders ultimately you are dealing with a few gate keepers through whom ultimately the food grains have to ultimately flow. And maybe the small traders will help at the local levels but for the big ticket spending for centralised campaigns and organized money distribution to purchase media and votes it is the big traders who come into play.
Imagine a cartel of 100 (or 1000) traders decides to extend 500 crores to a political party or parties in cash. The maths being that if you can offload 10 million tonnes of a combination of food per month at even Rs. 200 more per tonne for five months then you have recovered Rs. 1000 crores. Not very difficult? Entirely doable. A lot of reasons can be used to justify the rise, media can be managed to confuse people by flooding with a host of different reasons leaving people disinterested in applying their mind. Droughts, easy credit, difficult credit, dysfunctional distributions systems and what not. The poor will bring down their consumption, the rich will stay at the same level, but in the end the same amount would be consumed fetching a higher return.
This may seem a conspiracy theory but in the kind of democracy India is with very poor public debate on important matters and an enormous capacity in the common man to experience considerable hardships over decades without questioning the lack of simple interventions which can solve the problems, makes India a fertile ground for all kind of manipulators. The common man are the planktons, which help millions of a particular species of manipulators to breed on whom in turn a few thousand master shark-hunter-politico-business-interest kinds thrive.
A healthy democracy would have a debate on such issues for days to end. There would be multiple opinions, a huge amount of data and analysts.
This need not have been a sole job of Sharad Pawar but instead be cutting across party lines for the amount of benefits that such an exercise would yield. Even then one has to give it to him that a lone Sharad Pawar possesses the brilliance and capability to swing this kind of an activity single-handedly. A large number of politicians themselves are involved in the food grains trade.
The poor progress we have made as a society to discuss the funding of elections and party expenses is quite embarrassingly characteristic of the great democracy some of us would like to believe we are.
The need of the hour is to collect a number of data sets which will help understand whether this hypothesis is correct or incorrect. The media was mostly sold out but there need to be some independent academics and researchers of repute who need to put together the following:
1) What has been the quantum of extra money spent by the public as a result of the price rise. Thus supposing Mumbai consumes a 1000 kilograms of sugar per month at the rate of Rs. 25 / kg and the rate goes up to Rs. 40 / kg the differential outflow is Rs. 15,000 more than what would have been Rs. 25,000/-. This is just an example, we need to have all the figures on an all India basis and then be able to find the amount of money that has additionally flown out of the pocket of citizens.
2) Who are the key big entities, companies and individuals who trade in food grains in large quantities? What are their linkages with key politicians? What kind of relationships in terms of positions in companies, consultative contracts etc. are held between such entities and politicians?
3) A detailed breakup of all the election expenses leading to the 10,000 crore figure.
Maybe we have been funding elections like this all along. Maybe this is the Indian-Way. In which case there needs to be an analysis of such phenomenon across elections. Any which way I would like to know whether I am paying for the bills of keeping our great democracy going? There are no free lunches right?