The rare Asiatic lion is no match for India’s democracy. In the 2009 general election, a polling station was set up for a single voter in a wildlife sanctuary. Officials go to ever-greater extremes to ensure voters can cast their ballots, erecting booths in snow-capped mountains and Maoist rebel-affected areas. Unfortunately, politicians, also known as netas, show no similar enthusiasm for stamping out corruption in the electoral system.

India is known all over the world for bureaucracy, yet its elections are a marvel of staggering complexity and surprising efficiency. The last national ballot, held over six weeks and five years ago, swept Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power. The next, which must be held by May, will encompass around 875 million voters, 1 million voting stations, and over 10 million polling and police personnel. Turnout is rising too, with the 2014 count at over 66 per cent. Yet the integrity of the country’s noisy democracy is buckling under the weight of money. The problem has been ignored, even by India’s most anti-graft-minded leader in decades. Modi has started to shift the consensus on how the nation thinks about corruption and tamed high-level crony capitalism, but when it comes to elections, the distortions look increasingly grotesque.

Fairer elections

The Election Commission has proposed a limit on the anonymous donations parties can receive. However, in isolation, additional limits could prove ineffective given how little respect netas show for existing ones. That’s why greater transparency is also important. India could, for example, eliminate cash donations, said Vaishnav. Making money traceable would make it easier to spot politicians using it in suspicious ways.

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Money power is choking democracy in India

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