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Money, money, money: the tycoon factor in India’s election

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By Agence France-Presse

India’s tycoons are playing a pivotal role in the Asian giant’s most expensive election ever, from funding campaigns and tacit endorsements to being hot-button issues themselves.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid has received huge financial backing from corporate India, raising fears about the integrity of the world’s largest democratic process, experts say.

Meanwhile, Congress party opponent Rahul Gandhi is trying to exploit a fighter jet deal involving industrialist Anil Ambani while fugitive tycoons Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi loom over the vote from London.

Contesting polls is getting costlier in India and analysts say parties are becoming more reliant on donations from anonymous businessmen, leading to a lack of transparency and worrying conflicts of interest.

“There’s a trend towards plutocracy,” Niranjan Sahoo, of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) think-tank, told AFP. “Unbridled corporate influence can have a serious impact on policies,” he added.

The New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies estimates that around $5 billion was spent during the 2014 election that swept Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power — up from $2 billion in 2009.

The group thinks the 2019 contest could top $7 billion, making it one of the priciest elections globally.

“Elections are getting more expensive for many structural reasons,” Milan Vaishnav, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think-tank, told AFP.

“(There is a) growing population, increasing political competition, voter expectations of handouts in the form of cash and other inducements, and technological change, which means greater outlays for media and digital outreach,” he added.

Analysts say traditional funding streams, such as party memberships, are declining so parties increasingly rely on wealthy donors to fund campaigns.

Data compiled by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an election watchdog, showed that in financial year 2017-18 corporates and individuals contributed 12 times more to the BJP than to six other national parties, including Congress, combined.

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