January 15, 2015

The 2014 general elections were estimated to be India’s most expensive—and the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) broke the bank on the way to its biggest ever election victory.

In all, the BJP spent Rs714.28 crore ($115 million) on the 2014 general election campaign, according to the contribution report it filed with the Election Commission of India (ECI) on Jan 12.

That’s about Rs200 crore ($32 million) more than the Congress Party’s expenditure during the 2014 polls—and almost as much as the Rs791 crore ($127 million) that both the parties spent in the 2009 general elections.

The Congress’ expenditure details for 2014 aren’t available on ECI yet (as of early Jan 16.), but here’s the complete breakdown of how the BJP spent its money to secure the most resounding mandate for a single political party since 1984.

The big numbers

The BJP’s total expenditure of Rs714.28 crore ($115 million)—from the date of announcement of the election till its completion (March-May 2014)—was spent by its central unit and various state units.

The latter’s expenses ranged from a few lakhs for some states to nearly Rs100 crore ($16 million) for others, but more than a third of all the BJP’s poll expenditure was spent by the central unit on one item: media advertising.

The biggest individual recipients of this money were two firms—its media planner, Madison World and chartered aviation provider, Saarthi Airways.

Madison World, founded by Sam Balsara, had won the mandate to handle the BJP’s election campaign in Feb. 2014 and had accounted for 522 out of the 691 transactions the party made for its media campaign.

Saarthi Airways, on the other hand, is promoted by Delhi-based Gulab Singh Tanwar, reportedly a close friend of former BJP’s president and current home minister, Rajnath Singh. The party spent Rs77.83 crore ($12.57 million) on chartering aircrafts for its star campaigners, of which Rs60 crore ($9.7 million) was paid to Saarthi Airways alone.

And this was, in all likelihood, also the most expensive election campaign in the history of Indian democracy—with the BJP spending more than twice of what the Congress dished out for its 2009 win.

Provincial spending

The remaining chunk of the money was spent by the BJP’s state units, which either used it for media, campaign transport and similar propaganda uses—or simply disbursed the cash to its candidates.

For the states where the BJP has a strong presence and a good grassroots network, the spending was predictably high. But among the five states where it secured most seats, the paltry expenditure by the Uttar Pradesh unit was quite a surprise.

Bang for the buck

Money, of course, isn’t everything—and so it took a lot more than just big bucks for the BJP to win 282 seats in the general elections.

And while it was, by far, the most successful campaign of all of India’s political parties, the $100 million offensive didn’t pack the most bang for the buck. That honour went to a clutch of small regional parties who spent little to win big.

But its worth remembering that this is only what the parties declare before the ECI—and that India’s election campaigns are awash with black money, booze and other persuasive items.

So the actual expenditure could be much, much higher.