New Delhi: The Election Commission’s move to raise the individual poll expense limit for both Lok Sabha and assembly elections was on Tuesday endorsed by most political parties, which concurred that the steep inflation had rendered the respective ceilings of Rs 40 lakh and Rs 16 lakh, impractical.
The consensus at the all-party meeting convened by the EC has paved the way for an amendment of Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, to raise the expenditure ceiling by nearly 30 per cent, sources in the EC told TOI. The poll spending limits were last revised for both Lok Sabha and assembly poll in 2011.
However, the Commission’s draft guidelines on poll manifestos met with resistance from a majority of participants at the all-party meeting, with many representatives drawing a distinction between “mere goodies and freebies” and poll promises put down in manifestos. Some participants insisted that by making promises in manifestos, the parties were only sharing their long-term vision with the masses, and so bringing manifestos under the model code of conduct did not make sense.
As the EC discusses a possible 30 per cent hike in individual poll expenditure ceiling — which would ramp up the current highest ceiling (for Lok Sabha poll) from Rs 40 lakh to Rs 52 lakh and for assembly poll from Rs 16 lakh to nearly Rs 20 lakh, the parties on Monday could not be more in agreement. Both the Congress and BJP justified the need for a hike, citing the inflationary pressures over the recent year. “BJP is for taking into account the rising cost of everything over the years,” party leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told reporters after the meeting.
CPM, JD(U) and other regional parties also pushed for the raising the expenditure cap. JD(U) member Javed Raza justified the proposed hike, citing that while the highest expenditure ceiling for an assembly poll was fixed at Rs 16 lakh, a candidate in a Lok Sabha constituency, which on an average comprised five assembly seats, was allowed to spend only Rs 40 lakh (simple arithmetic worked out this estimate at Rs 80 lakh, going by the assembly poll ceiling).
Not surprisingly, Aam Admi Party, which was recognized as a state party recently and was attending its first all-party meeting, rejected the proposed hike. “We kept our expenditure in Delhi assembly polls under limit. We think the expenditure slab for Lok Sabha polls is appropriate and political parties can fight elections adhering to the limit,” Pankaj Gupta of AAP said.
BJP urged the commission to complete elections in as few phases as possible and argued against holding polls in UP and Bihar in May, when summer would be at its peak. It may pull down poll turnout, warned Naqvi.
Parties also stated their position on opinion polls with BJP opposing any move to curb them. CPM said opinions polls should be shown with disclaimers about sample size and other details so that viewers could understand their limitation.
Parties like AAP and TMC said they would accept the EC’s final decision.
CPM urged the EC to deploy adequate number of paramilitary forces in West Bengal in the interest of “free and fair polls”.