As the world continues to deal with the financial, economic and social impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, households are struggling with the mental and emotional impact of job losses, income cuts, loss of loved ones, loneliness, and uncertainty about their future. Undoubtedly, along with its physical dangers, the pandemic has impacted the mental health of billions of people globally, many of whom are still under lockdown.
Team CVoter conducted a series of surveys in June 2020 to capture the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown on the mental health of Indians across the country. We break these numbers down to show you the changes in overall mental health of Indians across the country. These include the main reasons for increased stress and anxiety amongst people in the last three months; loneliness, uncertainty, loss of income, and fear of domestic violence are some of these reasons. The surveys also look at the steps people are taking to cope with their changed circumstances.
How important is mental health?
First, in order to understand the importance placed on mental health in India, respondents were asked whether they think mental health is more, equally or less important than physical health. Almost 50% of respondents said they think both are equally important, while another 30.9% said they think mental health is more important than physical health.
How has the pandemic affected mental health?
Overall, around 20.6% of Indians reported that their mental health has worsened during Covid-19. At the same time, around 34.7% of respondents also reported having no change in their mental health now as compared to before the pandemic. These figures are consistent globally, as research conducted by the firm SSRS showcased that a third of people in the United States said they experienced stress, anxiety or sadness that was difficult to cope with alone since the outbreak of Covid-19. Similarly, around 25% of respondents in Canada, the UK and France also said they had suffered mental health problems as a result of the pandemic.
The levels of decline in mental health also varied by age, income and gender. Around 25.1% of females reported a decline in their mental health while only 16.4% of males reported the same. Those in the youngest age group (below 25) reported the highest decline (23.4%) while those in the oldest age group (60 and above) reported the lowest decline (8.3%). 22.5% of respondents in the lower-income group reported a decline, followed by 20% in the higher income group. Those in the middle-income group reported the lowest decline in their mental health (18.1%).
Has Covid-19 led to rise in domestic violence?
As countries across the world began to go into lockdown to help protect people from infection, a “shadow pandemic”, as stated by the United Nations, began to unfold in homes globally as women who had been victims of domestic abuse were trapped at home with their abusers. Reports of domestic violence abuse have increased in India and globally as households struggle with the additional strains of the pandemic. These include security, health and income struggles, in addition to being in the confines of a crowded home with limited or no access to services and reduced peer and family support.
According to the United Nations, reports of domestic violence abuse, which are majorly under-reported globally, have increased by around 25%. In India, data from the National Commission of Women (NCW) in mid-April suggested an almost 100% increase in domestic violence during Lockdown 1.0. Additionally, in just eleven days during the start of India’s lockdown, the Childline India helpline received more than 92,000 calls (20–31 March) asking for protection from abuse and violence.
Similarly, in France, reports of domestic violence rose by 30% after the lockdown started, while in China reports nearly doubled during the lockdown, with 90% relating to the pandemic. In May 2020, a study conducted by the UNFPA highlighted that if the lockdown continued for another six months, cases of domestic violence could rise to 31 million globally.
Even before the Covid-19 lockdown, as per figures by the United Nations, less than 40% of women who experienced violence sought help of any sort. Add to that the restrictions of being inside your own home, trapped with your abuser, with no network of support from friends and family, and reduced access to helplines and other services, women globally are the most vulnerable during this pandemic. Even as lockdowns are being relaxed in countries globally, it is important to remember that often personal crises such as those caused by the pandemic, including job loss and major financial setbacks can often aggravate abusers further.
What are the primary causes of stress and anxiety?
The most commonly cited cause of stress or concern for Indians over the last three months was finances and job security followed by uncertainty and fear of the unknown. Other major causes of stress included uncertainty about school or college exams (58.2%), fear of contracting the virus (50.9%) and the stress of following the guidelines (49.3%).
The main causes of concern varied significantly by age groups. For all age-groups, except for those over 60, finances and job security were the most commonly cited reasons for concern. The older age group (60 above) cited uncertainty and fear of the unknown as their most common cause of concern for the last three months (48%).
For females, the most commonly cited cause of concern/stress was finances/job security (70.1%), followed by uncertainty/fear of the unknown (59.9%) and uncertainty about school/college (53.3%). On the other hand, for males, the most commonly cited cause of concern/ stress was uncertainty/fear of the unknown (66.5%), finances/job security (63.7%) followed by uncertainty about school/college (62.8%). In addition to this, 30.9% of females and 30.7% of males cited family discord or domestic violence as one of the main causes of stress during the lockdown.
What steps are we taking to improve mental health?
Overall, the most common method cited by respondents to improve their mental health is talking about it with family (53.9%), followed by keeping themselves busy with hobbies (44.1%), while the least common is seeking medical help (5.7%). When comparing these figures across demographics we observe that those in older age groups are much less likely to take steps towards improving their mental health. The percentage of people in older age groups (60 and above) undertaking methods regularly to improve their mental health over the last three months is much lower than those in other age groups.
Additionally, we observe that for both males and females, the least commonly cited method to improve their mental health is seeking medical help. As per data by the World Health Organization, there is a wide “treatment gap” for all mental health disorders in India, whereby only 10% of patients in the country get treated.
This could be due to the shortage of mental health professionals in the country (three psychiatrists for every one million people), the mere 0.06% of the healthcare budget dedicated to mental healthcare, lack of awareness and taboo around mental health, or the fact that for roughly 40% of Indians who have medical insurance, mental health is usually not covered in the same.
As Indians continue to battle the pandemic, it is important to remember to offer help and reach out to those who you think might be struggling from the impact of the lockdown and the crisis.
All survey findings and projections are based on the Team CVoter Corona Tracker Mental Health survey waves 1-3 carried out in June 2020 among 18+ adults statewide, including every major demographic.
The data is weighted to the known demographic profile of every state, including age group, social group, income, region, gender and education levels. (Sample Size: 4,640)
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2021 ASSEMBLY ELECTIONS: BREAKING DOWN THE VICTORIES AND LOSSES
WEST BENGAL: DIDI’S THIRD TERM
In a widely scrutinized and highly contested battle, incumbent Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee led the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) to victory in the 2021 Assembly Elections. Despite having to battle against high anti-incumbency sentiments, electoral machinery of the BJP, and some widely publicised defections from top party aides, Banerjee successfully led the AITC to victory, securing 213 out of the 292 seats that went to poll. The AITC managed to increase its seat share by 2 seats and it’s vote share also increased to 47.95% this time, a surge from 2019 (43.70%) and 2016 (45.60%).
Although the Chief Minister lost her own seat, Nandigram, to long-time protege and now BJP member Suvendu Adhikari with a margin of merely 1,736 votes, the party’s large scale victory is all anyone can seem to talk about. What is also noteworthy is that the party also managed to secure a victory in minority-dominated regions of Malda and Murshidabad, which directly affected the Left-Congress’ position.
The BJP, which emerged as the principal opposition party, failed to secure the kind of victory it hoped for and had to settle with 77 seats and a vote share of 38.12%. In 2016, the BJP had managed to secure just 6 seats and a vote share of 10.80%. This changed significantly during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when the party, which had almost no political footprint in the state secured 18 seats. However, the party’s vote share has come down by 2.58% from 40.7% votes in 2019 to 38.12% in 2021. The 18 seats won by the BJP account for about 121 Assembly seats, out of which it was only able to retain only half of the seats, and the TMC won the remaining 60. In addition to this, the BJP’s vote share in those seats also fell by 10% from 2019 to 2021.
Given the high intensity campaign of the BJP, using star campaigners such as Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, the party failed to reach anywhere near the mark of 200 it had speculated. Undoubtedly, the party’s failure to have a clear Chief Ministerial candidate and public failure in containing the second wave of the Covid-19 crisis has played a role in the elections.
The Left-Congress-ISF alliance or the Sanjukta Morcha, locally called the jot, was nearly wiped out in the state, managing to win just one seat and securing a combined vote share of 8.6%.
The Left Front, which ruled the state for 34 years until Mamata Bannerjee unseated it in 2011, not only fell drastically short of its 2016 vote share of 21.18% but also failed to retain its vote percentage from the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Both the Left and the INC will not have even one single MLA in the 294 seat assembly, with the only seat that the Samyukta Morcha will represent being in favour of ISF chairman Naushad Siddique from Bhangar.
ASSAM: BJP’S SILVER LINING IN 2021
As the counting of votes continued on May 2nd, perhaps the victory in Assam was the only consolation for the BJP, as it secured a very comfortable win in the state election. While the anti-CAA and NRC protests led to the emergence of new parties and alliances such as the United Regional Front and the Congress’s Mahajot in an effort to win the state back, BJP managed to keep control of the state, winning a staggering majority of 75 seats in the 126 seat assembly.
However, this marks a loss of 11 seats since the last time when the alliance secured a win in 74 seats and a vote share of 38% (excluding 12 seats and 4% vote share of BPF). Individually, the BJP maintained its previous tally of 60 seats but increased its vote share from 29.8% in 2016 to 33.21% in 2021. When compared to its 2019 vote share, the BJP lost 3.19%.
Pre-poll alliances also saw major shifts when BJP’s long-time ally Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) left the NDA to join the UPA. The party’s seat share reduced from 12 seats in 2016 to 4, and its vote share also declined from 4% in 2016 to 3.39% in 2021. The Congress, which was fighting to gain back power in the state only managed to secure 29 seats, increasing its seats in the assembly by 3, whereas its vote share came down slightly with a loss of 1.63% (29.7% vote share in 2021). Its ‘Mahajoth’ allies AIUDF won 16, and Bodoland People’s Front bagged four seats with a combined vote share of 12.68%. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) secured one seat with 0.84% of votes whereas the Communist Party of India (CPI) failed to gain a seat.
Although the BJP-led NDA is slated to form a government for the second consecutive term, it is unclear if incumbent CM Sarbananda Sonowal (who won from Majuli) will continue in his position. This is even more uncertain since after the former Congress leader Himanta Biswa Sarma joined the BJP in 2015 and has bagged the Jalukbari seat with a margin of over one lakh votes and won an assembly seat for the fifth consecutive time and has a key role in expanding the party’s fortunes in the state.
TAMIL NADU: MK STALIN FINALLY SET TO BE CHIEF MINISTER
MK Stalin, the son of Muthuvel Karunanidhi and the leader of the DMK, will finally take his position as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, a position that he has perhaps been waiting for over two decades. Breaking the 10 years of AIADMK rule in the state, the DMK-led alliance has secured a majority in the state, winning 159 seats in the 234 seat assembly. The elections also reaffirm the bipolar nature of politics in the state as there will be no candidate from outside the two dominant alliances led by DMK and AIADMK, represented in the legislative assembly.
The results mark the rise of the DMK alliance since the 2019 LS elections when it wiped out the AIADMK-led NDA by winning 35 of 38 seats leaving just one seat for the NDA. The DMK individually won 133 seats in the 2021 elections, marking an increase of 44 seats from the 89 seats it secured during the 2016 elections. The DMK-led alliance’s vote share has increased from 39.30% in 2016 to 44.39%, however, it has declined from the 50.90% it managed to secure during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The INC, which is also a part of the DMK alliance has increased its MLA count in the state to 18. However, its vote share has declined from 6.5% in 2016 to 4.28% this time.
Although the AIADMK-led NDA managed to secure 75 seats in 2021, this was a major decline from the 126 seats it secured in 2016. In terms of vote share, the NDA, which includes AIADMK, BJP & PMK, bagged 39.72%, a rise of nearly 9.02% points from 30.70% in 2019. When compared to 2016, the alliance clocked a loss of a small 2.08% from 41.80% in 2016. The BJP opened its account in the state for the first time in 20 years by winning 4 seats with a vote share of 2.63% which was still a drop from 3% in 2016.
Although around 14.46% of the vote share went to parties other than those in the two major alliances, they will not be sending any MLA to the assembly. Popular actor Kamal Hassan who floated his own party Makkal Nidhi Maiam failed to win any seat in the 234 seat assembly. Similarly, The TTV Dhinakaran-led AMMK and its alliance partner Vijayakant-led DMDK also failed to gain a single seat in the assembly.
KERALA: LDF BREAKS 40-YEAR CYCLE OF ANTI-INCUMBENCY
Marking a huge change in politics, the state, for the first time in 40 years is slated to beat anti-incumbency and elect the same party to power for a second consecutive term. The incumbent Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by 76-year-old CPI(M) leader Pinarayi Vijayan won 99 seats in the 140 seat assembly, a gain of 8 seats from the last assembly elections. The LDF, which had managed to secure a vote share of 43.48% in 2016, increased it to 47.60% in 2019, however, this has now dropped again to 37.5% in 2021.
The main opposition alliance, the United Democratic Front (UDF) led by Congress focused its campaign in the state on highlighting the “mistakes” of the LDF government, including the gold smuggling scandal and the Sabarimala verdict. However, it only managed to secure 41 seats, a fall of 6 seats as compared to 2016. The UDF’s vote share also declined from 38.81% in 2016 and 47.60% in 2019 to 36.6% this time. The INC, which individually won 22 seats in 2016 saw a loss of 1 seat this time but increased its vote share by 1.32% to 25.12%. When comparing to its vote share of 37.5% in 2019, the party was at a major disadvantage.
The BJP-led NDA which had one seat in 2016 with a vote share of 14.96% failed to retain it, winning no seats at all this time, and bagging a reduced 11.30% vote share despite the party sending major names like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to rally for the candidates in the state.
PUDUCHERRY: CONGRESS FAILS TO WIN BACK ITS LAST SOUTH CITADEL
The INC government in the Union Territory of Puducherry, which was one of the last citadels of the Congress in the south, collapsed a month before the U.T. was set to go to polls. The U.T., which was currently under President’s Rule opted for a change in government, with the All India N.R. Congress (AINRC) winning 16 seats. The contest in Puducherry was a two-pronged battle between the Congress-DMK alliance and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) comprising the All India NR Congress (AINRC), the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
As a part of the NDA, the AINRC individually won 10 seats, while the BJP won 6. The AIADMK, which is also part of the alliance, did not manage to secure a single seat in the state. The DMK and the Congress, on the other hand, won six and two seats respectively. This was a decline for the INC, which had wrested control of the U.T. from the AINRC in 2016, managing to secure 15 seats, and forming a government with the support of the DMK, which had won 2 seats.
WITH CONTRIBUTIONS FROM DAMINI MEHTA, JUNIOR RESEARCH ASSOCIATE AT POLSTRAT.
COVID-19 POLL: INDIANS’ APPROVAL OF THE GOVERNMENT’S HANDLING OF THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS DECLINES
In an attempt to capture the country’s sentiment on the coronavirus crisis, Team C-Voter has been conducting a daily tracking poll from March 16th, 2020 among 18+ adults statewide, including every major demographic. The poll asks questions to respondents across the country about their economic and social well being, along with their sentiments on the fear of the virus and availability of food/ration in their households.
In mid-September 2020, since COVID cases reached a peak of more than 93,000 per day, infections began to decline steadily. By the middle of February 2021, India was only recording an average of 11,000 cases a day. In fact, in early March India’s health minister Harsh Vardhan said the country was “in the endgame” of the pandemic. However, in less than a month the situation changed drastically and the country is in the grips of a deadly second wave of the virus.
As of mid-April, India is experiencing a record-high rise in the daily number of cases every day. On 26th April, India recorded 3.52 lakh new COVID cases in a 24-hour period, the highest daily case count recorded in any country since the discovery of the virus in China more than a year ago. The country is now experiencing a major public health emergency as reports are coming in from all states about shortages of oxygen, ICU beds, ambulances, and essential medications. Using the Team C-Voter daily tracker, we will break down the changes in public opinion about the fear of the coronavirus and public approval of the government’s handling of the past few weeks as compared to the first wave of the virus in 2020.
HOW HAS THE PUBLIC OPINION ABOUT THE THREAT OF THE CORONAVIRUS BEEN CHANGING?
In 2020, during the months of April and May when India was under a series of strict lockdowns, the percentage of people who were scared of getting the coronavirus stabilized at around 41-45%. These numbers began to increase after the announcement of the lockdown relaxations and the unlock phase in the country, reaching an all-time high average of around 60% in August and September 2020. However, since the first week of October, the percentage of those who were scared that they or someone else in their family could catch the coronavirus began to decline.
In January 2021, the percentage of people who said that they were scared that they or someone else in their family could catch the coronavirus was at an all-time low of around 35%. Such low percentages were only recorded before in March of 2020 before the announcement of the Janata Curfew and the subsequent country-wide lockdown. These numbers went as low as 27% towards the end of February when the general public perception seemed to be that India had “defeated” the pandemic.
However, since the last few weeks in March, the fear of the virus has increased substantially once again as the total number of positive cases is touching an all-time high. Around 50% of people have said they fear that they or someone else in their family could catch the coronavirus in the past few weeks. As of April 2021, India is the second-worst affected country in the world by the coronavirus.
HOW HAS INDIANS’ APPROVAL OF THE GOVERNMENT’S HANDLING OF THE CORONAVIRUS BEEN CHANGING?
In 2020, in the days leading up to the Janata Curfew on March 22nd, around 75% of Indians believed that the government was handling the coronavirus crisis well. After the announcement of the first nationwide lockdown on March 24th, this figure began to increase gradually. However, it wasn’t until the first few days of April that over 93% of the respondents said that they thought the government was doing a good job in handling the crisis. This high approval rating continued until the end of May. However, since the announcement of the opening-up of the economy and the subsequent announcement of the unlock phases in June 2020, the percentage of those who agree with the way the government has been handling the crisis had been declining, reaching around 78% towards the end of the year.
Nonetheless, throughout the months of January and February 2021, the percentage of people who agreed with the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis stabilized at around 80%. This relatively high approval rating continued till the end of March. However, since the last few weeks in March, once again the approval of the government’s handling of the crisis had begun to decline gradually as cases continued to touch record-highs every day. On 21st April, India recorded 312,731 new COVID cases in a 24 hour period, the highest daily case count recorded in any country since the discovery of the virus in China more than a year ago.
While some states such as Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Delhi have lockdown restrictions in place to prevent the explosive spread of the virus, no nationwide lockdown has been announced. India is now grappling with a major public health emergency as reports are coming in from all states about shortages of oxygen, ICU beds, ambulances, and essential medications. However, during an address to the nation, on April 20th, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged states to announce a lockdown only as a “last measure”. On April 25th, 2021, the percentage of people who approve the government’s handling of the crisis fell to 68.8%. This is the lowest it has been since the start of the pandemic last year in India. During the first wave in 2020, this figure was as high as 94%.
As we can see, the shortage of medical supplies, including necessary medication, oxygen and ICU beds has caused a dip in Indians’ approval of the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. In the past few weeks, there has been a huge shortage in availability of oxygen cylinders and tankers which are necessary for transportation of oxygen from manufacturers to hospitals and individuals. This has created a massive shortage in availability of oxygen, which is highly demanded by COVID 19 patients who require urgent oxygen support.
HOW HAS THE AVAILABILITY OF RATION/FOOD IN INDIAN HOUSEHOLDS CHANGED DURING THE CORONAVIRUS LOCKDOWN?
In the days leading up to the Janata Curfew on March 22nd, over 75% of Indian households only had ration/money for ration to last them for less than a week. However, after the announcement of the first nationwide lockdown on March 24th, households gradually began to stock up, with only around 22% having ration/money for ration for less than a week by April 4th.
It is critical to note that throughout various phases of the lockdown, during the months of April and May, roughly 11-13% of Indians still reported having ration/money for ration for less than a week. For a country of 1.35 billion, this would translate to around 150- 175 million people who were living hand to mouth throughout the lockdown period. Even after the opening up of the economy on June 1st, and the subsequent start of the unlock period on June 8th, the majority of Indian households continue to be stocked up, with over 50% of them having enough ration for more than 3 weeks. This trend continued till the end of the year, with roughly 50% of households stating that they had food/money for food for more than 3 weeks, while around 15% were living hand to mouth, with food/money for enough supplies only to last them for less than a week.
Towards the middle of April, as coronavirus cases skyrocketed across the country, several states, including Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Delhi, Punjab, and Karnataka imposed severe restrictions, eventually leading to the announcement of a complete lockdown. When comparing the figures from 2020 and 2021, we observe that throughout April and May in 2020, when a strict lockdown was ongoing in the country, the percentage of people who said they only have ration/money for ration for less than a week was around 11-13%. On the other hand, in 2021, from the end of March till mid-April (as restrictions are being put in place) this percentage is slightly more at around 15-17%. Once again, to put this into perspective, for a country of about 1.35 billion people, this would translate to around 200-215 million people who are now living hand to mouth as a result of the lockdown imposed to curtail the spread of the second wave of COVID-19.
India is currently experiencing a deadly second wave of coronavirus crisis and as we continue to be under lockdown to fight the spread of the disease, another need is to fight against the spread of misinformation and inaccurate perception which can be as deadly as the virus. Our team at Polstrat hopes that everyone is staying safe and following all government guidelines to help curtail the spread of the virus. Through our tracking poll, we will continue to keep you updated on changes in public perception of the virus.
Current survey findings and projections are based on the Team C-Voter daily tracking poll conducted from March 22nd, 2020 to April 25th, 2021 among 18+ adults statewide, including every major demographic.
The data is weighted to the known demographic profile of every state, including age group, social group, income, region, gender and education levels.
TMC Report Card 2016-2021
POLSTRAT MANIFESTO CHECK WEST BENGAL
CASH FOR VOTES AND EVM HACKING: TRUTH BEHIND ALLEGATIONS
On April 6th, as voting closed for assembly elections in various states in India, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, West Bengal and Assam, reports of clashes between political parties from almost every part of the country came to light. Parties accused each other of buying votes for cash, liquor, freebies and of orchestrating electoral fraud by tampering with electronic voting machines (EVMs).
Such allegations during any election in India are not new at all and have become a standard feature of every bypoll, assembly and state election in India. Another common form of electoral malpractice in India is the violation of the model code of conduct as prescribed by the Election Commission of India (ECI).
The ECI, a constitutional body under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Law and Justice, the Government of India is responsible for the conduct of elections at the national level, state level and local level.
The ECI is responsible to ensure that any instances of electoral malpractice and fraud are kept under check as per various laws to ensure that everyone has a level playing field. Let us take a deep dive into these accusations and find out what is the truth behind them.
WHAT IS THE PRICE OF A VOTE IN INDIA? BARTER FOR CASH, LIQUOR, GOLD FOR VOTES
On 5 April, before the single-phase voting was set to begin in Tamil Nadu, residents of a village in Namakkal district held a protest. The reason? The protesters alleged that they had been left out when a political party was distributing cash for votes for polling the next day. Clashes were witnessed on polling day between several political parties in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala accusing each other of giving out cash for votes. Undoubtedly, distributing cash and other freebies such as liquor, narcotics for votes has become a commonplace practice in Indian elections.
The distribution of any cash, gifts, liquor or other items is not permitted when the election model code of conduct is in force by the Election Commission of India. It falls under the definition of ‘bribery’ — an offence under Section 171 (B) of IPC — and Representation of the People Act, 1951. However, despite this, as per data provided by the ECI, roughly three times as much cash, liquor, narcotics and other freebies have been seized so far in 2021 as compared to during the assembly elections in 2016 in the same states.
Till April 6th (before the day of polling) the ECI has roughly seized unaccounted cash, liquor, narcotics, precious metals and other freebies worth Rs. 948 crores from all poll-bound states. In 2016, the same figure was at around Rs. 226 crores. Out of all the freebies seized, cash accounted for the highest percentage (Rs. 331.56 crores), followed by precious metals (Rs. 226.82 crores).
In fact, the exchange of cash and freebies for votes is so common that many politicians have talked about the “going rates” for a vote during elections. In a report written in the Scroll during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, a politician from Arunachal Pradesh remarked, “Last time, I wanted to contest, so I did a recce … the rate was Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 per vote, and there are around 17,000 to 18,000 voters, so adding the cost … it came to around Rs 25 crore to Rs 30 crore. I decided not to contest, it was beyond me.”
Studies conducted by various independent research agencies have shown that the trend of “note for vote” has become extremely common in India and has been on the rise irrespective of the socio-economic status of the recipients. In fact, the earliest evidence of bribing voters goes all the way back to the mid-1950s when parties would offer meals to people and then later request them to vote in their favour.
It is also important to keep in mind that the amounts seized by the ECI, are just a drop in the bucket of the actual amounts of money in circulation during elections. While the election commission places limits on election spending of around Rs. 50-70 lakh for Lok Sabha election candidates, and around Rs. 20-28 lakh for each assembly candidate, the actual expenditures far exceed these limits.
While certainly not all of the expenditure of candidates goes into exchanging cash for votes, it is certainly a significant portion of the expenditure.
Even during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the ECI reported cumulative seizures of cash and freebies amounting to roughly Rs. 5,000 crores, while the overall estimated expenditure during elections was at around Rs. 55,000 crores (Centre for Media Studies). As per data available, 8,024 candidates participated in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Even if we take the upper limit of permitted spending per candidate it adds up to a total expenditure of around Rs. 6,639.22 crores. However, estimates suggest that all candidates themselves spent at least Rs. 24,000 crores in the elections.
ELECTIONS 2021: BUSTING MYTHS ABOUT ELECTION MALPRACTICES
Elections in India are not run any differently from how the parliament itself runs, covered in allegations between members and parties. While allegations are standard practice of campaigning (indeed politics) and often unfounded, there are many instances of malpractice during elections regardless of the guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI). From the purchase of votes, violence, excessive election spending to campaigning within the last 48 hours of voting, there are instances of candidates flouting all rules. Much research has been done on the effectiveness of paying for votes directly to voters in the form of cash or goods which shows us that the effectiveness is undecided and often negated thanks to the secret ballot.
In this column, we will look at some major allegations which are taken up at a large scale and look at the reality on the ground. The contrast of speaking out against corruption during campaigns and at the same time disregarding the model code of conduct set by the ECI provides a glimpse into the workings of politics in the country. Though we have come a long way from mass booth capturing and dumping of votes there still are many aspects of the election process that we as a country need to improve. When the validity of electronic voting machines (EVMs) was questioned, (voter-verified paper audit trail) VVPATs were introduced to ensure fair voting. The ECI actively works on handling complaints swiftly and even holding re-elections in areas but the complex systems in place for the largest elections in the world still have ways to go to ensure there is no truth left behind these allegations.
HATE SPEECH: VIOLATION OF THE ELECTORAL MODEL CODE OF CONDUCT
One of the first rules of the model code of conduct (MCC), as prescribed by the ECI, is that “no party or candidate shall include in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic”. In simple words, it prohibits hate speech. In 2021 so far, the Election Commission has placed a ban on several candidates, including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and DMK leader A Raja for using communal and religious rhetoric in their speeches while campaigning.
It is no secret that elections in India are fueled by emphasising communal and religious identity. Hence, it is no surprise that parties use such rhetoric while campaigning to emphasise and re-establish community identity. You may ask: if this is such a commonplace practice, what is the ECI doing to curb the same? The ECI has launched a mobile application whereby any citizen can share proof of malpractice by political parties, candidates and activists when the MCC is in force. The information uploaded from the application is transferred to a control room, where field units or flying squads are alerted for further action.
However, the ECI has also highlighted that it has extremely limited powers in addressing the issue of violation of the MCC by candidates and parties through the usage of hate speech. In 2019, during the Lok Sabha elections, in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed the Supreme Court, called the commission “toothless” for failing to act against political leaders who made polarizing speeches. The Supreme Court had made an inquiry into action being taken against leaders who had made polarizing speeches, to which the ECI replied that it does not have any powers by which it can disqualify a candidate for violating the rules of conduct. The counsel for the EC explained that in any case of the violation of the MCC, in the first instance, the candidate is issued a notice and a reply is sought. If the candidate does not respond, then an advisory is issued, after which the EC files a complaint.
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