In the world’s largest democracy, the spectacle of Indian elections is not just a political saga but a colossal financial endeavour that reverberates through every corner of the economy. National elections are pivotal moments in any country’s democratic process. They offer citizens the opportunity to shape the future direction of their nation by choosing their representatives and leaders. From the glitzy billboards in bustling metropolises to the bustling markets of rural India, the election season transforms the economic landscape into a high-stakes arena of expenditures, investments, and economic stimulants. This financial juggernaut mobilizes billions of dollars, driving industries, shaping markets, and leaving an indelible mark on the nation’s economic fabric. As the campaign trails heat up, a deeper look at the economics of Indian elections reveals a complex web of fiscal dynamics that underpin this democratic exercise.

Cost of ‘Right to Vote’

The Indian government spent approximately INR 60,000 crore (around USD 8 billion) on the 2019 General Election. This figure includes the costs of deploying security personnel and election officials and conducting the entire process across 543 parliamentary constituencies. In comparison, The United States is known for its high levels of election spending reportedly seeing spending of over USD 14 billion in the 2020 Presidential Elections, making it the most expensive election in American history. On average, state elections cost significantly less than national elections, but they still represent a major financial outlay. For instance, the 2022 Uttar Pradesh state assembly election cost the government over INR 800 crore (around USD 100 million). A significant portion of the expenditure is allocated to the Election Commission for administrative costs, including personnel salaries, transportation, and logistics. Security arrangements, which include the deployment of police and paramilitary forces, form a considerable part of the costs. Ensuring free and fair elections in a country as diverse and populous as India requires substantial security outlays. Investment in technology, such as Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs), has increased. The cost of purchasing and maintaining these machines contributes to the rising expenditure. Expenditure also covers voter awareness campaigns, setting up polling booths, and other logistics.

In 1996, the cost was much lower, at around INR 500 crore (approximately USD 67 million). However, there has been a sharp increase in election expenditure over the subsequent decades. In 2009, the government spent approximately INR 10,000 crore (around USD 1.3 billion). This was one of the earlier elections where significant investments were made in modernizing the election process, including the use of EVMs. In 2014, the expenditure increased significantly to around INR 35,000 crore (around USD 4.8 billion). The cost rise was attributed to the larger scale of security arrangements and extensive use of technology. An increase in the electorate and the need to cover a wider geographical area contribute to higher costs. Investment in modern technologies, including EVMs and VVPATs, and the need to ensure cybersecurity have escalated expenses. Rising costs are also due to enhanced security measures to ensure peaceful elections, particularly in sensitive regions. Adherence to strict election laws and the need to provide transparent, free, and fair elections have increased administrative costs.

Spending by Political Parties

In India, election spending by political parties and candidates is regulated by the Election Commission of India (ECI) under the Representation of the People Act, 1951 and the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961. These regulations aim to ensure transparency, accountability, and fairness in electoral competition while curbing excessive spending and the influence of money in politics. The ECI imposes expenditure limits on candidates and political parties contesting elections to various legislative bodies, including the Lok Sabha (House of the People), Rajya Sabha (Council of States), state legislative assemblies, and local bodies such as municipal corporations and panchayats. Expenditure limits are set based on the size of the electorate and the geographical area of the constituency. The limits may vary for different types of elections and constituencies. Candidates and political parties are required to adhere to these expenditure limits during the election campaign period, which typically spans several weeks leading up to the polling day.

Candidates and political parties are mandated to maintain detailed records of all election-related expenses incurred during the campaign period, including expenditures on advertising, campaign materials, travel, rallies, public meetings, and campaign staff salaries. Within a specified timeframe after the conclusion of elections, candidates and political parties are required to submit expenditure statements to the ECI, disclosing their campaign expenses and sources of funding. The expenditure statements must be accompanied by supporting documents, vouchers, bills, and receipts to verify the authenticity and accuracy of the declared expenses. The ECI monitors election expenditure through various mechanisms, including surveillance teams, flying squads, and video surveillance, to detect violations of expenditure limits and other campaign finance regulations. Special expenditure observers may be appointed by the ECI to oversee the conduct of elections in high-spending constituencies or areas with a history of electoral malpractices. Violations of expenditure limits or failure to comply with disclosure requirements can result in penalties, including disqualification of candidates, forfeiture of security deposits, or derecognition of political parties.

Political parties are required to maintain detailed accounts of their income and expenditure, including donations received from individuals, corporations, and other entities, and report them to the ECI and the Income Tax Department. Donations above a certain threshold must be reported to the ECI and the Income Tax Department with details of the donor’s identity, address, and contribution amount. Anonymous donations are prohibited. Political parties are also required to submit annual audit reports of their finances to the ECI, which are made available to the public for scrutiny and transparency. The ECI provides public funding to recognized national and state political parties to support their election-related activities, including election campaigns, candidate training, and voter outreach programs. Public funding is allocated based on the performance of political parties in previous elections, their representation in elected bodies, and other criteria determined by the ECI. Public funding aims to reduce parties’ dependence on private donations, promote transparency in campaign finance, and ensure a level playing field for all political parties.

Election Funding around the world

Government spending on national elections varies widely across countries, primarily influenced by factors such as the country’s economic development, political system, population size, and electoral regulations. In some nations, election spending is primarily funded by the government itself through public funds allocated for electoral processes. In contrast, in others, it relies heavily on private donations from individuals, corporations, or political parties.

Publicly Funded Systems – Countries like Norway, Sweden, and Germany have publicly funded election systems where the government provides a significant portion of the funding for political parties and election campaigns. Public funding aims to ensure fairness, transparency, and equal opportunity for all political parties and candidates. Public funding can cover various expenses, including campaign advertisements, candidate debates, administrative costs, and voter education initiatives. The amount allocated for election spending in publicly funded systems is typically determined through legislative processes and may vary depending on the electoral cycle and the number of participating parties.

Private Funding Dominance – In some countries, particularly those with less developed democratic institutions or weaker regulatory frameworks, election spending is predominantly financed by private donations from wealthy individuals, corporations, or interest groups. Private funding dominance can raise concerns about the influence of money in politics, potential corruption, and unequal access to the political process. Efforts to reform campaign finance laws and strengthen oversight mechanisms are often necessary to address these challenges.

Mixed Funding Systems – Many democracies, including the United States and the United Kingdom, operate under mixed funding systems, where government funding supplements private donations. In these systems, political parties and candidates often rely on a combination of public subsidies, private contributions, and fundraising efforts to finance their election campaigns. Mixed funding systems can lead to concerns about the influence of wealthy donors or special interest groups on the electoral process. Regulations and disclosure requirements are implemented to mitigate the risk of undue influence and ensure transparency in campaign financing.

Impact on the Economy

Elections can have significant impacts on the economy, both in the short term and the long term. These impacts can vary depending on factors such as the political context, the outcome of the election, and the economic policies proposed or implemented by the winning party or candidate.

Policy Uncertainty – Elections often create uncertainty about future government policies, particularly regarding taxation, spending, regulation, and trade. This uncertainty can lead to cautious behaviour among businesses and consumers, affecting investment decisions, hiring practices, and consumer spending patterns. In the short term, heightened uncertainty may dampen economic activity as businesses postpone investments and consumers hold back on major purchases.

Fiscal Policy Changes – The outcome of an election can result in changes to fiscal policy, including government spending and taxation. For example, a new government may implement fiscal stimulus measures to boost economic growth or pursue austerity policies to reduce budget deficits. The timing and magnitude of such policy changes can influence economic growth, inflation, and employment levels.

Monetary Policy Expectations – Elections can also influence expectations about future monetary policy actions by central banks. Political developments that are perceived as inflationary or deflationary may affect bond yields, exchange rates, and inflation expectations. Central banks may adjust their monetary policy stance in response to changes in economic conditions or to support the objectives of the elected government, such as promoting full employment or price stability.

Investor Sentiment – Elections can impact investor sentiment and market volatility, particularly in the financial markets. Uncertainty surrounding election outcomes or policy proposals may lead to increased market volatility as investors reevaluate their investment strategies and risk exposures. Stock markets, bond markets, and currency markets may experience fluctuations in response to changing political dynamics and expectations about future economic policies.

Business Confidence – Elections can influence business confidence and sentiment, affecting corporate investment decisions, expansion plans, and hiring intentions. Businesses may delay or accelerate investment projects depending on their assessment of the economic and regulatory environment under different political scenarios. A favourable election outcome perceived as business-friendly may boost confidence and encourage investment, while uncertainty or unfavourable policy proposals may have the opposite effect.

International Trade and Relations – Changes in government leadership resulting from elections can impact international trade agreements, tariffs, and diplomatic relations. Shifts in trade policy, such as the imposition of new tariffs or the renegotiation of trade deals, can affect exporters, importers, and supply chains, with implications for economic growth and employment. Trade tensions or disruptions resulting from changes in government policies may also contribute to global economic uncertainty.

Long-Term Structural Reforms – Elections can provide an opportunity for governments to implement long-term structural reforms aimed at enhancing economic competitiveness, productivity, and sustainability. Policy initiatives related to education, healthcare, infrastructure, innovation, and labour market reforms can have lasting impacts on economic growth, income distribution, and social welfare. The outcome of elections may influence the pace and direction of such reforms, depending on the priorities and political consensus of the elected government.


  1. Business Standard – Lok Sabha election 2024: How much does it cost to hold elections in India?
  2. New Indian Express – More than Rs. 700 per vote? Inside India’s record-breaking election!
  3. Wikipedia – Political Funding in India