By the Election Commission’s yardstick, the 2019 elections should cost parties and candidates about Rs 600 crore. In reality, they will spend about 24,000 crore. Yes, demonetisation worked.

It is a truism that an Indian politician begins his election campaign with a lie—a massive, mind-blowing lie that massages the middle-class where it matters most. It comes in the form of the affidavit candidates have to file while submitting their nomination papers, of their assets and liabilities.

The lie is formalised within 90 days of election, when the Election Commission signs off on the expenses incurred by parties and candidates. Thus begins a relentless “recovery” drive, which only ends five years later, or whenever elections are held next, when it is time to start all over again.

And so it is with #GeneralElections2019, which has two fresh jokes that none of the meme-makers have found the time to parody: a) political parties being kept outside the purview of the right to information (RTI), and b) the introduction of anonymous electoral bonds.

Anyway, the broad picture is that the EC imposes a ceiling on the expenditure of only candidates, not political parties. On average, depending on the size of the state, candidates are officially allowed to spend between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 70 lakh in a Lok Sabha election.

Even if you assume the upper limit of Rs 70 lakh in all the states, filling up the 543 seats should cost Rs 380 crore.

Which, of course, it doesn’t.

***

In the 2014 election, the national parties claimed they had given Rs 55 crore to 175 candidates, according to the Association for Democratic Reforms, although 263 MPs claimed they had received in all Rs 75 crore from their parties. So, a lie within a lie.

Again, if you assumed the upper limit of Rs 75 crore, and add a like amount of Rs 75 crore for the remaining 180 candidates of other parties and independents, the expenditure incurred by parties should stand in the region of Rs 150 crore.

In other words, the 2014 election should have cost candidates and parties in all Rs 530 crore, roughly Rs one crore per constituency, give or take.

Which, of course, it didn’t.

Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is quoted as saying the 2014 election cost an estimated $5 billion: approximately Rs 30,000 crore.

Surely, the 2019 election should be double that?

***

Using its network of correspondents, the Kannada newspaper Praja Vani has tried to arrive at a ballpark figure for what the 2019 elections will cost candidates and parties, taking into account “gifts” for voters, campaign advertisements, food and liquor, helicopter charges, appearance fees for “star campaigners”, etc.

Praja Vani is a play-safe newspaper, not given to spicing up stuff. Even so, the final figure of likely expenditure—Rs 23,759 crore in all—is a worthy epitaph to “The Lie” of corruption-free politics—and to the even greater lie of #Demonetisation wiping out black money.

As always, the more “progressive” southern states are the most expensive, costing in all Rs 8,510 crore.

Andhra Pradesh: Rs 2,500 crore
Each candidate expected to spend around Rs 75 crore per constituency
Party expected to spend around Rs 25 crore per candidate

Bihar: Rs 1,000 crore
candidate Rs 20 crore; party Rs 5 crore

Chhattisgarh: Rs 110 crore
candidate Rs 8 crore; party Rs 2 crore

Goa: Rs 70 crore
candidate Rs 25 crore; party Rs 5 crore

Gujarat: Rs 360 crore
candidate Rs 22 crore; party Rs 3 crore

Haryana: Rs 200 crore
candidate Rs 15 crore; party Rs 5 crore

Himachal Pradesh: Rs 50 crore
candidate Rs 10 crore; party Rs 2 crore

Jammu & Kashmir: Rs 120 crore
candidate Rs 5 crore; constituency Rs 20 crore

Jharkhand: Rs 430 crore
candidate Rs 25 crore

Karnataka: Rs 1,400 crore
candidate Rs 15 crore; party Rs 10 crore

Kerala: Rs 500 crore
candidate Rs 20 crore; party Rs 5 crore

Madhya Pradesh: Rs 900 crore
two candidates Rs 25 crore; parties Rs 10 crore

Maharashtra: Rs 4,500 crore
candidate Rs 35 crore; party Rs 10 crore

Odisha: Rs 315 crore
there candidates Rs 10 crore; parties Rs 5 crore

Punjab: Rs 600 crore
candidate Rs 35 crore; party Rs 10 crore

Rajasthan: Rs 1250 crore
candidate Rs 40 crore; party Rs 20 crore

Tamil Nadu: Rs 2,340 crore
candidate Rs 50 crore; party Rs 10 crore

Telangana: Rs 1700 crore
candidate Rs 75 crore; party Rs 25 crore

Uttar Pradesh: Rs 4500 crore
candidate Rs 55 crore; party Rs 5 crore

Uttarkhand: Rs 50 crore
candidate Rs 8 crore; party Rs 2 crore

West Bengal: Rs 330 crore
candiate Rs 6 crore; party Rs 2 crore

Delhi: Rs 175 crore
candidate Rs 20 crore; party Rs 5 crore

Northeastern states: Rs 250 crore in all

Union territories: Rs 18 crore in all