Local bodies and elections

Last evening, my neighbour, who is also the president of the local resident’s welfare association, briefly dropped in to hand over my mother’s voting chit. And dropped in a line asking us to vote for a particular party. “This guy has done excellent work in his previous term as MLA”, he said, “and we’ll all benefit if he is gets elected”.

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Scrap the spending limit

There are two notable things regarding the ongoing elections in Karnataka. The first is the presence of a large number of real estate developers in the elections. The second is the virtual non-existence of corruption, rather the removal of it, in party manifestos. These two points, I believe, are not independent. Under the current system, political parties are forced to rely on black money to fund election campaigns. For people with black money, election funding is an extremely lucrative investment, and with the right bets or good hedges, can give excellent returns.

The political parties have no way out of this. In the name of austerity, and conserving public money, there is a limit on spending in elections. Currently, it stands at a measly Rs. 10 lakh per candidate. In other words, what the rules say is that no candidate is allowed to spend more than this amount on his campaign. Assuming that the average assembly constituency has about 2 lakh voters (this is the case with Karnataka this time round), this works out to Rs. 5 per voter.

A “normal” election involves considerable expenses – banners and posters and flyers; speeches by national politicians; public meetings; door to door campaigning; rallies (And I’m not even thinking about “illegal expenses” such as buying liquor and saris and crowds). It is obvious that in order to put up a serious campaign, one needs to spend a large multiple of the official limit. There is only one way to fund this – using “black money”.

Notice that even if a particular party wants to be honest, and doesn’t want to use black money, it can’t do so unless it is willing to badly hurt it’s own chances in the elections. There is simply no way out. Yes, you might think of increasing the spending limit, but if the other guy is willing to spend over and above the new limit there isn’t much you can do.

As you might have figured out from the title of this post, my recipe is to scrap the spending limit on elections. It is fairly common knowledge that no one really sticks to these limits. Why not just legalize this? It still won’t stop parties from using unaccounted money. However, it gives the parties an OPTION to be honest, and use only honest sources of money.

If a party wants to go to the polls on an anti-corruption platform, it would be able to do so without being corrupt during the process itself. And once some party takes the plunge and “goes honest”, the other parties are likely to follow soon, unless they can afford to lose their reputation. And where will “honest” political parties get their funding from? I’m sure there is a large number of businesses who stand to benefit a lot from a corruption-free government. It shouldn’t be a problem to tap them for funds.

I concede that it’s not a foolproof solution. There is no guarantee that there will be some party which will take the bait and go “all white”. Even if one party does so, there is no guarantee that the entire flawed system can be cleaned up. However, this proposal doesn’t cost too much. I can see no real negative aspects of removing the cap (if you can think of anything, please let me know in the comments). It is definitely worth a try. It is definitely superior to give people the choice to be honest, rather than forcing them to be dishonest.

Cross posted at the Indian Economy Blog

touring

i think i’m going to have some free time in the first week of may. i used to have this plan of randomly touring karnataka. and despite the heat, i think this would be a good time to do it. also, given that it’s election time, I think i can get lots more insights from my proposed tour.

i hope i can get someone to sponsor this trip. in return i’ll blog about it for them, and write maybe three articles per day about my travels and insights. Hell, I’ll be doing a grassroot level election coverage for them! So I’ll definitely be adding valoo.

i wonder how to approach this problem. can someone please suggest?

BJP in Bangalore North – Karnataka elections coverage part four

Looking around the whitefield-krishnarajapuram area, one gets the feeling that the BJP is strong in these parts. The area is dotted with advertisements by the party, and the local party office is also quite prominent. No other party has any sort of visible presence here, and considering that this area is semi-urban and has a large number of Reddys (that I figure out by the names of the leaders, etc.) I would classify this area as a BJP stronghold.

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BJP in Bangalore part two – Karnataka elections coverage part three

“Bangalore South is not as Brahmin-dominated as you think”, Rajeev Gowda had told me about two years back. “There are an equal number of Vokkaligas here. So I do have good chances of winning”. Unfortunately for Prof. Gowda, Basavanagudi, where he lives, is currently represented by former mayor K Chandrashekar, another Congress Vokkaliga.

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The BJP in Bangalore – election coverage part two

If reports earlier in the day by TV 9 are to be believed, the BJP has finalised its candidates for the 28 constituencies in Bangalore. On the whole, they seem to have done a decent job of it, though it was widely reported that there was a lot of infighting and lobbying. The chief cause for concern, however, is that a number of realtors have been given tickets.

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Reservations issue…

So the cabinet seems to have cleared the bill paving way for reservations for OBCs in central universities (including IITs, IIMs). Thankfully there is some sense in the cabinet and they have said (at least on paper) that the implementatino would be in a phased manner.

I was watching “Face the nation” on CNN IBM late this evening, and in that Rajdeep Sardesai pointed out that according to some survey, more than 50% of Indians want reservations.

This brings us to the issue of the number (rather the percentage) of people who have been classified as “backward”. I don’t have the figures with me (and I’m too lazy to get them) but I believe more than half of India is classified as “backward”.

Taking a further step back, I’m wondering where Mandal drew the line to classify castes as forward or backward. He could’ve been driven by his own caste (I think Mandal is a SC surname, so he didn’t have an incentive there; but he could well have been under the diktats of someone who might have benefited directly or indirectly (in terms fo vote banks)). Alternatively by drawing the line where more than 50% of the population would “benefit”, the reservations would automatically have “popular mandate”. Another reason could be that if Caste A were in and Caste B out, politicians of B would oppose the implementation of the recommendations. But A has to be included for “strategic” reasons. So include B, and C and D also.

On an unrelated note (this is an impromptu post, so i’m meandering), I remember a certain group taking out a demonstration in Madras the other day asking to be classified as “backward”! I won’t be surprised if, in the near future, the oxford english dictionary were to redefine “backward” as “privileged” or something…

Students in Delhi have said they’ll revive their protests tomorrow. My best wishes are with them.

Update 1
I forgot to add this yesterday (thanks for reminding me) – a number of numerically and politically dominant (and not really backward) communities are classified as OBCs. For example, in Karnataka the two dominant communities – Lingayats and Gowdas are classified as OBC. In the North Jats are OBC.

Update 2

tells me that Mandal was a Yadav. Explains a lot of things.

more on simulated annealling

This time, I pick one of my favorite topics: Indian Politics.

Simulated annealing is a popular heuristic technique. I’ve written some preliminary intro about it here . Read it before you go ahead with this… for those who are too lazy to do that, here goes… as for those who already know what simulated annealing is, ignore the next two paragraphs.

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