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Goats for Votes and Other Bizarre Stuff Making India’s Election One of the Most Expensive in the World

Chicken biryani, social media spends, chopper rides and using elephants to carry voting machines are all making it a hefty price to pay.

by Shamani Joshi
13 March 2019, 10:21am

Photo courtesy: (Left) Prime Minister's Office, Government of India; (Right) Al Jazeera English

As we approach the upcoming Indian elections slated to begin on April 11 and end on May 19, we wait with bated breath to see what the outcome will be. However, a new report published on Bloomberg and put together by New-Delhi based Centre for Media Studies (CMS)— an organisation that has advised previous governmental authority and provides research on the electoral process—estimates that the election cost will go up to about Rs 500 billion (USD 7.5 billion). This means, it’s even overtaking the cost of the 2016 American Congressional election, which was $6.5 Billion according to—a site that keeps track of the money spent in the American political setup—probably making it the world’s costliest election.

You’d think that an economy with a diminishing GDP growth and increasing unemployment would be more mindful about the money it spends, but turns out we like to treat ourselves a little too much. And what’s even more baffling is that while there has been a 40 percent leap from the $5 billion estimated to be spent on the previous election, most of it is being pumped into social media marketing and travel expenditure, according to N Bhaskara Rao, chairman of CMS.

But apart from the new-age advertising, there’s some truly bizarre shit the money’s being blown up on. Here are some campaign tactics driving up the numbers:

Holding rallies that serve chicken curry, biryani and other fancy food

Besides serving up a mean Instagram game to gather votes, the on-ground reality still involves holding rallies that dish out big promises and bigger plates of chicken biryani and curry. Because the best way to the average man’s vote is through his stomach.

Goats to get the votes

If doling out the plated dish wasn’t enough, other campaign tactics also include gifting things like goats, blenders and television sets. The report by Bloomberg also reveals that more than 90 percent of federal-level Indian politicians said their peers feel pressured to hand out gifts like cash, alcohol or other personal goods, according to a survey by Jennifer Bussell, an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Same-name candidates to confuse voters

From dum biryani to dumb tactics, another classic election scam that is known to occur is propping up dummy candidates who have the same names as popular figures so as to confuse the voting population. And while the government has taken steps like requiring the candidate's photo to prevent the confusion like in the case of the multiple Hema Malinis in 2014, fielding such dummy candidates is a cost that can even go up to 120 billion rupees according to an investigation by India Today in 2016.

Social media shitstorm

While attempts to keep fake news in check are already underway, about 26 billion rupees are still expected to go into the advertising for the upcoming election, an estimate given by Zenith India, which manages TV slots and newspapers required for the campaigning process. But the lack of transparency in the system about where exactly the money comes from means they can splurge more than double the amount spent by the two main parties in the 2014 elections.

Elephants and choppers for all area access

Even social media isn’t enough to guarantee access in a country that stretches from the Himalayas in the north to the Indian Ocean in the south to the Sunderbans in the west. Which is probably why the Election Commission was allotted 2.62 billion rupees of the Indian budget. And like most events in the country, they’re going big. By big, we mean getting elephants to carry electronic voting machines to remote, inaccessible areas; boats to ferry stuff in the Northeast region; helicopters and buses for travelling candidates and party workers; even running polling stations at 15,000 feet in the Himalayas and one exclusively for a hermit deep in the jungles of West India.

So whether it’s the hand or the lotus that will come out on top, this election is sure going to be one heavily expensed hell of a ride.

Follow Shamani Joshi on Instagram.

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