Expensive affair

Moa Jamir

It is a foregone conclusion that elections in Nagaland are a very expensive affair, as apparent from official documents as well as anecdotal evidence, which are often poles apart. Nevertheless, the personal submissions by contesting candidates to the concerned election authority during the nomination process for elections give a preview of how much is at stake in the state’s elections.

In many electoral battlegrounds, the rich and affluent are pitted against each other, and anecdotally stated, often it is the money power that decides one’s fate. Restricting just to candidates' own affidavits, more than 56% of them had total assets worth over 1 crore.

Specifically, a total of 104 hopefuls for a seat in the 14th NLA have total assets worth over 1 crore or are ‘crorepatis’ as per the analysis of the affidavits submitted by candidates to the Election Commission of India (ECI). Reportedly, this number has been consistently increasing over the years. In 2018, 100 out of the 195 (or 51.2%) fell under this category, while in 2013, it was 46.8% of the total candidates.

In 2023, the collective assets of 104 crorepati candidates were a whopping Rs 759.23 crore, including over Rs 95.63 crore in movable assets and Rs 653.30 crore in immovable assets, while the collective total assets of 184 candidates, at Rs 789.18 crore, averaged Rs 4.28 crore per candidate.

On the other end, there were 4 candidates whose assets were worth just over 58,000, with the ‘poorest’ candidate having assets worth just Rs 5251, while 22 of them had assets between 1-10 lakh. While they might be standing in different assembly constituencies, it is anybody's guess on what the outcome would be.

A total of 75% of the sitting MLAs in Nagaland are crorepatis, as revealed in a recent report by the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) after analyzing the 2018 election affidavits. Thus, there seems to be a positive correlation between the relative ‘worthiness’ of a candidate and the winning factor.

Candidate’s assets comprise both movable assets such as cash in hand, different types of deposits in banks, financial institutions, cooperative societies, etc.; investment in bonds, debentures/shares, NSS, insurance policies, etc.; personal loans/advances; vehicles, jewelry, etc.; and immovable assets comprising agricultural and non-agricultural land, commercial and residential buildings (including apartments).

Accordingly, to a great degree, it can be asserted that the values entered by the candidates would be conservative at best, and the crorepati’s list or the total worth would increase substantially if assessed independently based on the current market value. For instance, among the current affidavits submitted, the value of an Innova Car is put below Rs 4 lakh by a couple of candidates, while commercial buildings in prime locations, including resorts, are valued at less than Rs 10 crore. The same applies to huge areas of land, particularly in Nagaland’s two most expensive cities in terms of property –Dimapur and Kohima and their peripheries. Outside the formal submission, the exchange of favors of different kinds cannot be ruled out.

Despite such a backdrop, if one goes by candidates’ own submissions, elections in Nagaland seem to be an extremely frugal affair. For example, an analysis of ‘Expenses made during the elections’ during the 2018 elections available in the public domain thereafter informed that 158 candidates combined hardly spent Rs 10 crore during the polls.

Astonishingly, none of the candidates crossed the Rs 20 lakh expenses per candidate limit set for assembly constituencies, as per the disclosures. However, another 'independent' report that came out in December 2018 estimated that over Rs 1061 crore was spent by candidates.

The question remains whether there can be a streamlining of these two divergent outcomes. To this, the Election office, particularly the Expenditure Observers, have a great role to play and check such an expensive affair.

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