Political Finance in India: Déjà Vu All Over Again


In the January 2019 issue of Seminar, I take a look back at the recent changes made to India’s system of regulating campaign finance in the year 2018. Here’s my bottom-line:

As the global democratic reform movement is agitating for more transparency, disclosure and openness in political funding, India is rapidly hurtling in the opposite direction. India has earned a reputation for often bucking global trends. But here is one domain where India’s innovation is hardly cause for celebration.

This issue is going to get loads more attention as the race for 2019 heats up. You can read the full piece here.

p.s. The entire special issue of Seminar is worth reading. It has smart essays by Yamini Aiyar, Mihir Sharma, and my colleague Srinath Raghavan, among others. You can read them all for free here.


Thoughts on the 2019 Election Campaign

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I recently did an interview with Archana Masih of Rediff on the state of the 2019 campaign. We touched on everything from nationalism in India to the Budget and the health of India’s institutions.

Here’s a glimpse:

Can a united Opposition give a good fight and turn the tables? Or is the BJP now a well oiled election-winning machine, despite the setbacks in the assembly elections?

The united Opposition can definitely give the BJP a good fight. But I start from the premise that this remains the BJP’s election to lose.

It possesses a lot of advantages. Modi remains the most popular politician in India; the BJP’s organisational and fundraising prowess is considerable; and the Opposition, while newly collaborative, has no leader or clear economic messaging as of yet.

There are many people confidently predicting that Modi will be a one-term prime minister; I think that is very premature.

The national campaign has not yet begun in earnest and he has every incentive to presidentialise this election, as he did in 2014. One thing we know is that campaigns do have an independent, causal, impact on people’s voting decisions in India.

You can read the entire interview here.

New column: Priyanka Gandhi as Political Finance

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In a new piece for Foreign Policy, I try and decode the meaning behind Priyanka Gandhi’s surprise entry into electoral politics as part of the Congress Party campaign in 2019.

Here’s the bottom line:

Priyanka Gandhi play is not only about winning allies and lifting spirits; it’s also about cash. The party is short of it, and Gandhi substitutes for the political finance that the Congress desperately needs.

Read more about my take on the “Priyanka-as-political-finance” strategy here.


As Uttar Pradesh Goes, So Goes India

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In our latest “India Elects 2019” essay, Jamie Hintson and I look at the battle for Uttar Pradesh. Rather than wade into the guessing game around seat forecasts, we focus on three issues critical to sealing the final UP outcome: voter mobilization, Hindu voter consolidation, and rural anxiety about the economy.

Here’s a glimpse:

Insiders have long claimed that replicating 2014 is a pipe dream for the BJP. The last general election result was a perfect storm of anti-incumbency voter bias, a slumping economy, and a presidential contest with only one compelling candidate. While a sweep of UP may no longer be in the cards, the BJP must retain a strong majority of seats there. To have a shot at doing so, the party will have to energize its base, keep its coalition from fracturing, and address (or, more accurately, be seen to address) the needs of India’s rural dwellers. If it fails, a second term could be jeopardized. To paraphrase an old U.S. electoral maxim: as Uttar Pradesh goes, so goes the nation.

You can read the full piece here.