Star Campaigner and Election Expenditure for UPSC

Star Campaigner and Election Expenditure, Why in News ? Recently, the Election Commission (EC) revoked the status of Congress leader Kamal Nath as a star campaigner for the party in an ongoing Bihar State Assembly bypolls citing repeated violations of Model Code of Conduct while campaigning for its party.

Who is Star Campaigner?

  • According to the Election Commission, there is no specific definition for Star Campaigner. So, in general, we can presume that a star campaigner is a person, who is considered of having the potential to attract more votes for his/her party.
  • There is no law governing who can or cannot be made a star campaigner.
  • Star campaigners are nominated by the concerned political parties.
  • A list of star campaigners has to be communicated to the Chief Electoral Officer and EC within a week from the date of notification of an election.

How many star campaigners are allowed ?

According to the EC’s Model Code of Conduct:

  1. The maximum number of star campaigners has been reduced from 40 to 30 for a recognised party.
  2. For unrecognised but registered parties, the number of star campaigners has been reduced from 20 to 15.
  3. Besides, star campaigners will now be required to take permission from the district election official 48 hours prior to campaigning.

Model Code of Conduct (MCC)

  • It is a set of guidelines issued by the EC to regulate political parties and candidates before elections. 
    • Article 324 of the Constitution gives EC the power to supervise and conduct elections to the Parliament and state legislatures. 
  • Purpose of MCC is to oversee and conduct free and fair elections.
  • The MCC is enforced from the date that the election schedule is announced till the date that results are announced.
  • MCC code does not have any statutory backing.
    • However, certain provisions of the MCC may be enforced through other statutes such as: Indian Penal Code, 1860; Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973; and, Representation of the People Act, 1951.

What benefits do star campaigners get?

  • The EC allows more election expenditure to star campaigners.
  • The revised election expenditure of star campaigners is as follows:
    • A 10 percent hike will be applicable with immediate effect in the ongoing elections in Bihar and various assemblies (e.g., MP and Karnataka) and one Lok Sabha by-poll.
    • According to a recently issued Law Ministry notification, in bigger states such as Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar, and Haryana, the maximum expenditure a candidate can incur for campaigning in Lok Sabha polls is now ₹ 77 lakh. So far it was ₹70 lakh. For assemblies, it has been hiked from ₹28 lakh to ₹30.8 lakh.
  • Expenditure incurred on electioneering by the star campaigner is not added to a candidate’s poll expenditure, giving him/her more leeway.
  • According to the Representation of People’s Act, these expenses will be borne by the political parties.
  • This notion is based on an idea that a popular face, which common voter can immediately identify with and who they support, can increase the number of votes a political party gets.

Legislative Provision for Election Expenditure

  • The root of the issue is found in Section 77 (3) of The Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RP Act). This section reads, “The total of the said expenditure shall not exceed such amount as may be prescribed.”
  • Section 78(1) of The Representation of the People Act, 1951 , requires every contesting candidate at an election to lodge with the District Election Officer an account of his election expenses within thirty days from the date of (declaration of the result of the election).
  • Laws’, most of the time, cannot be implemented as they are; they need to be operationalised by ‘Rules’ made under a particular ‘law’ by the Government of India. The RP Act was operationalised through The Conduct of Election Rules, 1966.
  • Rule 90 of the Conduct of Election Rules, ‘Maximum election expenses’ stipulates that the total of the expenditure, which is incurred or authorized in connection with an election in a State or Union territory shall not exceed prescribes mark.

The Reality of Election Expenditure in India

  • According to Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR)—a civil society group working on electoral and political reforms—analysed the affidavits of 5,743 candidates after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
  • This analysis showed that only four candidates declared expenditure above the then limit of 16 lakh. Thirty candidates had declared that they had spent between 90 and 95 per cent of the limit.
  • The remaining (5,743-4-30=) 5,719 or 99.58 per cent said they had spent between 45 and 55 per cent of the limit.
  • But, informal expenditure is many time higher than what official figure shows after study of candidates expenditure affidavits.

Reforms in Election Expenditure

The only ways to control expenditure on elections and to provide a ‘level-playing field’ to rich and poor candidates alike are:

  • Make political parties democratic in their internal functioning.
  • Make their finances transparent by law.

(These two objectives require strong political will and consensus among parties.)

  • EC has set up a committee to examine the issue of revising the expenditure limit for candidates for Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in view of the increase in number of electors and rise in Cost Inflation Index.
  • The committee comprising former DG Investigations Harish Kumar and EC Secretary General Umesh Sinha will assess the change in number of electors across the states and union territories and its bearing on expenditure. The committee will submit its report within four months of its constitution
    • Expenditure limit for candidates was last revised in 2014. For Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the limit was enhanced in 2018
    • In last six years, the limit was not increased despite an increase in electorate from 834 million to 910 million in 2019, and to 921 million now. Further, Cost Inflation Index during this period has increased from 220 to 280 in 2019.

Star Campaigner and Election Expenditure for UPSC

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