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India: Cash, booze, gold and democracy

Data: Election Commission of India; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

India’s Election Commission has confiscated more than $474 million worth of drugs, alcohol, cash and gold that politicians intended to distribute to voters.

Why it matters: The seizures expose the deep-rooted culture of vote buying in the world's largest election. With 17 days still to go in the staggered elections, the value of the seizures is already 2.5 times higher than the total from 2014.

Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment said this could be India's costliest election ever, with parties spending some $7 billion.

  • "Most of the money that fuels Indian elections is so-called 'black money' that is transmitted off-the-books to avoid the prying eyes of the Election Commission," he says. "Although there are strict limits on how much candidates can spend, there are innumerable ways that politicians can skirt the rules."
  • "One of the biggest expenses candidates incur is the distribution of cash, liquor, and other inducements on the eve of polling. This practice of 'gift-giving' does not necessarily guarantee victory, but it signals a candidate’s largesse and is widely accepted as the cost of doing business in Indian elections."

The big picture: India has completed four out of seven phases of polling, with final results expected on May 23. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking another term.

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