March 13: If Narendra Modi shares the stage with the actor-candidate and says “Bhaiyo behno, Bhai Shatrughan Sinha ko Patna Sahib mein bhari bahumat se jitaiye”, the BJP’s candidate’s poll managers will have to reach for the calculator (though Shotgun is yet to be renominated from the seat).
If Lalu Prasad holds a rally at Vaishali with Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and a supporter holds the picture of “Raghuvansh Babu”, the former Union minister’s poll expense limit will be drained.
But if Sonia Gandhi simply stands near Mohammad Kaif on a Phulpur stage and does not utter his name, the cricketer’s poll expenses meter may not tick.
From this general election, star campaigners’ expenses will be considered as that of the candidates if it is established that votes were canvassed not just for a party but also for individual contestants.
Till now, expenditure incurred by star campaigners — a select group nominated by each party — was counted as that of the organisation.
The new norms, which replicate a “Bihar model”, narrow the candidates’ options for squeezing themselves within the expenditure limit imposed in each seat.
The Election Commission had recently raised the limit on each candidate in each seat in big states to Rs 70 lakh from Rs 40 lakh and to Rs 54 lakh in small states. But it is an open secret that many candidates spend crores.
The change in rules governing campaigning means that every time it is established that a star campaigner has canvassed for a candidate, the expenses will be added to the contestant’s account, bringing down his or her limit.
However, this does not mean that the meter will tick on the candidate’s accounts at all meetings attended by the star campaigner. The commission has laid down specific guidelines to establish if a star campaigner has canvassed votes for a particular candidate or not.
The norms range from introducing the candidate to the audience to keeping the contestant’s picture in the background.
Mere physical presence of a candidate near the star campaigner will not count as campaigning. This raises the question whether miming skills will be much sought after in this election.
Star campaigners need not be members of a political party but their names have to be submitted to the poll panel within seven days of notification of the election. A party has the discretion to decide who will be its star campaigners.
Usually, key leaders of a party who have national appeal are made star campaigners. A recognised party can have as many as 40 star campaigners while a registered but unrecognised party can have 20.
“The moment the star campaigners deviate from the standard guidelines set by the commission — meaning they campaign for an individual, not a party — their expenses will have to be paid from the poll account of the candidate,” said an Election Commission official.
Till the last general election in 2009, all the expenses of a star candidate — holding rallies, lodging, boarding and travelling, including hiring choppers — were borne by the political party.
The new norms were tried out in the 2010 Assembly elections in Bihar. If a star campaigner campaigns for more than one candidate in a day, the expenses will be shared on the basis of a formula where weightage is given to factors such as distance travelled.
The change has evoked mixed reactions. Pragati Mehta, the RJD candidate from Munger, agreed that the rules on star campaigners were “complicated”. “But if the Election Commission has made such a rule we will follow it,” Mehta said.
Poll panel sources said that stringent norms had been introduced to keep track of expenses.
“This will be the first parliamentary election when shadow observation registers will be introduced to maintain day-to-day records of each candidate’s poll expenses. The register will be tallied with the expense records submitted by the candidates and in case of any discrepancy, observers can summon the candidates and seek explanation,” said a senior official.
A fine of Rs 500 can be imposed for failure to furnish supporting documents. The Election Commission also has the power to disqualify candidates.
Poll officials said meetings with political parties to sensitise them about the new rules had been started.
R. Laxmanan, the deputy chief electoral officer of Bihar, said: “The list of star campaigners is to be given by political parties. Parties are expected to furnish expenditure reports of meetings and rallies of star campaigners to the Election Commission within seven days. A separate register is maintained for this. The cost of posters and banners put up for the rally of a star campaigner is added to the candidates’ expenses. Normally, it is presumed that if the star campaigner is holding meetings at more than one place, the campaign is for the candidate.”