BJD gave Rs 39.40 crore to its candidates to contest 2019 elections

Bhubaneswar: No doubt elections in the country are an expensive affair. The ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha did not shy away from spending generously during the 2019 polls as it provided a whopping Rs 39.40 crore to all its MLA and MP candidates (except Pinaki Mishra, who won from Puri Lok Sabha seat) to fight the polls.

BJD distributed Rs 20 lakh per MLA and Rs 50 lakh per MP candidate, as per the list submitted to the Election Commission by BJD’s treasurer Subhash Singh. The list doesn’t have the name of senior party leader Pinaki Mishra who was elected from Puri Lok Sabha constituency.

Surprisingly, several BJD candidates failed to spend the money during the polls and many of them have returned the balance amount to the party.

Minister Samir Ranjan Dash, who won from Nimapara Assembly seat, spent around Rs 13 lakh out of Rs 20 lakh given by BJD and returned the balance amount. As per the self-sworn-in affidavits, the total poll expense of Pranab Prakash Das (Jajpur) stood at Rs 12.95 lakh, Atanu Sabyasachi Nayak Rs 10.1 lakh and Pradip Maharathy Rs 15.60 lakh. Only a handful of MLA candidates of BJD spent over Rs 20 lakhs in the last election.

“Whatever funds was provided by the party, I have used it and returned balance amount of nearly Rs 7 lakhs,” said Dash.

Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), which put up an impressive show in the last election, is yet to submit its poll expenditure data to the Election Commission. However, from the affidavits it is evident that the defeated candidates spent more than the wining candidates this time.

For instance, BJP’s defeated MLA candidate from Nimapara, Prabhati Parida spent nearly Rs 16.55 lakh against Rs 15 lakh which she received from the party. Party’s MLA candidate from Jajpur, Gautam Ray spent around Rs 15.99 lakh.

Though Congress is also yet to submit party’s poll expenses, its senior leader and Jeypore MLA Tara Prasad Bahinipati admitted to have received Rs 20 lakh from the party while he spent another Rs 5 lakh from his own pocket.

“A candidate cannot win by spending anything less than Rs 2 to 2.5 crore. Not a single MLA can claim that he/she has won the polls by spending between Rs 20 lakh and Rs 28 lakh. I had received Rs 20 lakh from party and had to spend Rs 5 to Rs 7 lakh extra,” said Bahinipati.

Odisha BJP vice-president, Samir Mohanty said, “BJD MLAs claiming that they have won polls by spending Rs 12 to Rs 13 lakhs is totally unacceptable. People of Odisha very well know which party has spent money more in the polls.”

However, both BJP and Congress members accused BJD candidates of concealing the actual expenses incurred during the recently-concluded 2019 polls.

As per the prescribed guidelines, MLA candidates can spend a maximum of Rs 28 lakhs while the total expenses of a candidate contesting for Lok Sabha cannot exceed Rs 70 lakhs. As many as 102 candidates, who had contested the 2014 elections in Odisha, revealed that they had spent nearly 50% less than the prescribed cap on expenses during the polls.

As per available information, the average poll expenditure of BJD candidates during 2014 election was Rs 12 lakh while for BJP and Congress candidates; it was Rs 13 lakh and Rs 10 lakh, respectively.

What is surprising is the fact that candidates usually spend crores of rupees during elections and the Commission doesn’t seem to have any concrete mechanism to check such discrepancies which has now emerged as a major concern.

“There is no restriction on how much a political party can spend during the polls. This perhaps is providing an escape route for the candidates as well,” said Ranjan Mohanty, member of Association For Democratic Forum.