The Congress manifesto talks of scrapping electoral bonds and setting up a National Election Fund, from which funds will be allocated during elections to recognised political parties as laid down by a law brought to this effect. This has revived the debate around public funding of elections, though it is hard to see how such a fund will generate voluntary contributions, with the incentive for a donor to contribute to a party of her choice gone. The underlying principle in state-funded or candidate/party agnostic public-funded (National Election Fund model) polls, of providing a level playing field, is an admirable one. But it seems impracticable for a host of reasons.
The state funding each candidate from Panchayat to Parliament would mean considerable costs and a mind-boggling number of variables that can’t be squared off. To start with, political financing today is as much about the sustenance of whole-time workers of parties as it is about poll expenditure. Even if state funding were to be limited to just elections, parties may just use their own funds to meet election expenses by exploiting loopholes. It will be very difficult to frame who gets state funding and how much. For instance, if every candidate is to be given the same amount for every election, that would mean wasting state money on frivolous candidatures. Also, does a major party’s candidate get the same as a local outfit’s nominee, or should parties be given funds on the basis of vote share in previous elections (this would mean the winning party always has a financial advantage over the others)? None of the frameworks recommended so far can reconcile the interests of the multiple stakeholders in Indian elections. Also, with healthcare and education requiring more funds, the state funding polls doesn’t seem to be the best idea.