After spending a few days on the eastern coastal stretches of Orissa, the political process in India is doing quite well. Thanks to Naveen Patnaik's mix of arrogance and a hint of cockiness, I think that the Congress might get an unexpected windfall in Orissa, including the state assembly. But that is just the politics, I also over the past few days realised how bloody expensive it is to conduct an election and the General Elections might cost an estimated Rs 10,000 crore to stage, but the stimulus given to the local economies and the general global economy by Indian politics is staggering.
Take this for example, while Orissa isn't a very large state unlike Maharashtra, Rajasthan or Gujarat, the concept of good roads doesn't exist anywhere but in stretches near Bhubaneshwar. Even though places might be only 100km away, two hours drive in certain cases, a chopper has to be hired. The cost of renting a 2+2 chopper (two pilots plus two passengers) costs Rs 70,000 an hour, a day's electioneering by chopper would cost over Rs 2-3 lakhs. And that is just the el cheapo choppers. The big Eurocopter choppers used by A-list politicians cost over Rs 1.5 lakh a flying hour. And then there are the planes, the most popular plane being the Cessna Citation X, a ten seater that costs close to Rs 2.5 lakh a flying hour. So a politician (from a national party) who wants to have breakfast and dinner at 'home' in Lutyen's Zone, would spend over Rs 10 lakh in a day flying around. Multiply that and you can see costs escalate massively!
Then there are rallies, while the media can froth at the mouth about people being paid to come to rally or given 'inducements' here is the funny thing you really expect people to turn up in 40-degree weather without inducements. Heck, your journalists have to be fed otherwise they revolt and crib. A rally costs a bomb to organise, between Rs 3-4 lakhs (before people costs) and if you get a 'A-List' politico, candidates need to show a strong side and that involves bussing in people. The average thekedar charges Rs 250/head. You want a turnout of 5,000 people (enough for a Sonia or Advani rally in a small village) you will need to spend at least Rs 5 lakhs to bolster numbers after all how many party workers would you have?
You think that is unfair and treating people like cattle, the strange thing is that politicians need to do this to show that they are strong in the media. Well attended rallies mean that you are on an upswing and can make the few educated voters, those unencumbered by caste, creed or religion to vote for the winner. That 'unencumbered' voter is a rising number, maybe only 5-6 per cent of the overall voting electorate (though possibly 75 per cent of the non-voting classes) but these numbers are beginning to make a difference in some states. But most voters in India would vote blindly, much like most voters in South Dakota would never vote for a black man.
Then there are other costs. Each jhanda costs between Rs 10-15, T-shirts Rs 50-80, lapel pins (and these are apparently very popular, though for the life of me I can't figure out why) Rs 10, caps (useful in the summer) Rs 20 and so on and so forth. And with the EC effectively banning paper posters, each 3x5 vinyl poster costs Rs 500. The large hoardings put up by the likes of Ajay Maken and Vijay Goel in Delhi would set you back Rs 10,000 each. But you get fewer of those in the provinces. And that is before the costs of acquiring large stashes of alcohol, for food, and so on and so forth. And that does not include the cost of the true star of the elections is the Tata Ace, which is the electioneering vehicle of choice and a damned sight better than ancient Bajaj three-wheelers. If the Nano had been launched before the election, things could have been even more dramatic.
The average cost of running for a parliamentary seat in Orissa, before central party costs is estimated at Rs 1 - 1.5 crore. That number goes up to Rs 2.5 crores in Bimaru states and upwards of Rs 5 crore in marquee seats such as New Delhi, Lucknow, South Bombay, Bangalore South and so on and so forth. And here is the strange thing, the 'true' independent (not the 'party rebel') such as Gopinath or Meera Sanyal can not win (let alone the deposit losing tea stall owner or rickshaw puller), and thus are essentially media whores, look at the coverage they have got. And ABN Amro is owned by a failed bank that is owned by Her Majesty the Queen of England.
And the large English media channels and papers buy into the romanticism of elections and think they can make a change, but they can't because nobody in the boondocks gives a rats ass about them. Well, maybe, just maybe they do give some credibility to the ToI (and the ToI's Bhubaneshwar edition is downright horrid), but that is about it. The fact of the matter is that these elections will throw up several surprises for us here in Delhi and we care because we want to know who our new neighbours will be and how much of Suhel Seth we will have to endure on TV. But out in the provinces the die was cast long ago and it wasn't cast in the refugee camps of Kandhamal, where there was 90 per cent polling, because 90 per cent of 3000 won't win you a corporation seat. Though the Congress will probably still win that seat.
I still think the NDA will pull through and I feel that actually serves the Congress better than the UPA winning. I believe, and as usual I add my caveat that I could be wrong, that the Congress will lose, get rid of the heart patient and make Rahul baba as the Leader of the Opposition in the LS. By 2014 all the other old fogeys (and that includes Chiddu and gang) would have been dispensed with and the army of sons and daughters will take over. By 2014, hopefully several other 'old' and seemingly senile people would have gone to the great, big parliamentary debate that is hell and Rahul Gandhi (according to the Congress) will wins hands down. A UPA victory may not therefore be so good (though HT hopes otherwise, maybe because someone wants to be a Minister). But this is just a theory and as usual I could be very wrong.