Narendra Modi, BJP 'out-funded' Congress: Jairam Ramesh

Written by Agencies | New Delhi | Updated: May 14 2014, 16:33pm hrs
A day after exit polls predicted a drubbing for the Congress in the Lok Sabha polls, senior Congress leader and Union Minister Jairam Ramesh rose to the defence of party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, terming him an indefatigable campaigner.

He must have addressed over 125 rallies in every nook and corner of the country. He brought spirit into our campaign and took on not just BJP and Narendra Modi but also articulated what our party stood for, Ramesh said.

He dismissed Mondays exit polls and said they would be proved wrong like in 2004 and 2009.

Ramesh said the BJP and Modi had outfunded the Congress, with their spending reaching an obscene leveland called for a serious expenditure audit.

He also lashed out at BJP for a communal campaign.

Asked about Prime Minister Manmohan Singhs restricted campaign, Ramesh said the PM did go out and campaign but only where he felt comfortable.

Ramesh also demanded a "serious expenditure audit" of the money spent by parties in the just-concluded polls.

"This has been a difficult campaign because the Congress has been out-funded by BJP," Ramesh said here.

"The amount of money that the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate (Modi) has spent is astronomical... I think obscene levels of funding. But clearly our level of spending was peanuts compared to what Mr Modi was able to raise," he added.

Congress leaders like Kapil Sibal and Anand Sharma have alleged that BJP spent between Rs 5,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore on its high-decibel campaign, which was unprecedented in the history of Indian elections.

In an interaction with mediapersons at the Indian Women's Press Corps here, Ramesh also came out with a proposal to check overspending during poll campaigning and suggested abolition of the MP-LAD scheme and using the money to state- fund elections.

A whopping Rs 30,000 crore is estimated to have been spent cumulatively by the government, political parties and candidates in the nine-phased polls which started on April 7 and concluded on May 12.

Referring to the BJP's publicity drive in the print media, Ramesh said that "front page ads in newspapers" given by Modi "will tell you the story -- the amount of money that has been spent".

"Taking a frontpage ad in newspapers is not cheap. Congress didn't take out even one full frontpage ad," he said.

Ramesh, who was Congress's chief campaigner in Seemandhra and Telangana regions of Andhra Pradesh, said he was "appalled" by the level of spending by candidates belonging to all political parties for Assembly and Lok Sabha polls in that state.

"I was apalled. Crores were spent in Assembly seats, in Parliament seats, (by all) political parties. In the circumstances, only big contractors and real estate developers can contest elections," he said.

The Rural Development Minister said that all parties should reach a consensus on electoral reforms.

"If you are asking me that there should be a serious expenditure audit, (then) I agree with you.

"There must be realistic expenditure norms, there must be a genuine expenditure audit. Because with the level of funding we are seeing, it is another threat to Indian democracy," he said.

Asked about Priyanka Gandhi's campaign in the Gandhi family pocket boroughs of Rae Bareli and Amethi, Ramesh said, "She (Priyanka) was the sounding board for the Congress leadership and organisation.

"She was a source of ideas. She was not a campaigner... Ultimately what counts in politics is the public role and her public role was the same as in 2004 and 2009."

Dismissing exit poll predictions that Congress is facing the biggest poll defeat in its history, he said the party would do well and "the hype over BJP will be proved wrong".

Exit polls have predicted that the BJP-led NDA would form the next government at the Centre and the Congress-led UPA will get less than 140 seats.

Noting that all campaigns were "brutal" and 2014 was no different, Ramesh also alleged that BJP's campaign strategy was a "deliberate polarisation" of north India.

"Despite of our best efforts, the campaign did become communal. Muzzaffarnagar was the starting point of that. I think this campaign was launched by BJP in Muzzaffarnagar.

"Deliberate polarisation in north India was the campaign strategy. The actual campaign strategy was reflected in Muzzaffarnagar," he claimed.

Slamming the "individual-centric" campaign led by BJP, Ramesh said that his party was "handicapped" by the fact that they were not fighting BJP but an indivudual.

"Even if we wanted to make the campaign more substantive, Congress was handicapped by the fact that we were not fighting BJP... as their campaign had become an individual-centric one.

"BJP was not in the campaign, it was an indivudual. In constituency after constituency where I went, the campaign slogan of BJP was vote for one indivudual, not vote for the (local) candidate," he said.

"Despite our desire and best efforts, we were handicapped that we could not make BJP or its ideology a substantive part of the campaign as everything was individual-centric," he added.