Gaining currency

Published : Jun 20, 2008 00:00 IST

At the godown of a transporter in Bellary city, bundles of saris seized by the police on April 23.-M. AHIRAJ

At the godown of a transporter in Bellary city, bundles of saris seized by the police on April 23.-M. AHIRAJ

Money power played a major part in the Assembly elections.

THE latest round of Assembly elections in Karnataka may have gone in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because a considerable number of first-time and non-committed voters opted for the saffron party and because of the electorates antipathy towards the H.D. Deve Gowda-led Janata Dal (Secular), or JD(S). But even to a casual observer it was obvious that the use of money permeated the elections more than ever before, right from the choice of candidates to their nomination and the campaign.

Money apparently decided the fortunes of quite a few seats, and Congress leaders even claimed that money played a crucial role, especially in the mining belt of Bellary district, in bringing the BJP to power for the first time in a State south of the Vindhyas.

P.G.R. Sindhia, a veteran politician who quit the JD(S) after H.D. Kumaraswamy decided to form a government in alliance with the BJP in February 2006, said each of the candidates nominated by the Congress, the BJP and the JD(S) spent, even on a conservative scale, an average of Rs.5 to 6 crore. In quite a few constituencies, most notably the nine seats in the iron-ore-rich Bellary district (where the BJP won eight of the nine seats), the 28 seats in Bangalore (BJP 17, Congress 10) and in other urban centres, it is estimated that candidates spent at least three times that amount. This would mean an expenditure of more than Rs.4,000 crore for the 224 constituencies in the State. Incidentally, the Election Commission of Indias (ECI) expenditure for conducting the elections was put at around Rs.70 crore.

Sindhia, who joined the Bahujan Samaj Party and spearheaded its campaign, said his party too doled out money. We had trouble even reaching the ECI-stipulated limit of Rs.12 lakh in almost 150 constituencies, but we had to spend a lot of money in 20 to 30 seats. But it is wrong to say that only the BJP spent money. All three major parties spent huge amounts of money, he said. Said S. Suresh Kumar, who successfully contested the Rajajinagar seat in Bangalore on the BJP ticket: The quantum of money being used in elections has been increasing despite the restrictions. The ECI cant contain it. I think the time has come for the ECI to look at more ingenious means to tackle the issue.

Statistics too buttress the role of money. Between April 20 and May 17 the State police seized money totalling Rs.17.97 crore, which was apparently meant to woo voters. Of this, Bellary district accounted for Rs.11.14 crore, while the other major seizures came from the districts of Mandya (Rs.3.2 crore), Belgaum (Rs.21 lakh), Gadag (Rs.23.52 lakh), Haveri (Rs.34.06 lakh), Mysore (Rs.51.29 lakh) and Raichur (Rs.1.5 crore). In Mysore city, the police seized Rs.46.98 lakh in cash, besides sizable quantities of liquor and other items and the vehicles used to transport them.

Another indication of the use of money was the seizure of cash and property, totalling Rs.45.50 crore, by the E.C. during the run-up to the elections. According to the Chief Electoral Officer of Karnataka M.N. Vidyasankar, the money and the property were used to induce voters.

Under the Election Commissions guidelines, each candidate is allowed an expenditure of Rs.12 lakh. Every item of expenditure is recorded and the candidate is required to inform the E.C.s expenditure monitors before incurring any expense. Of the Rs.12 lakh, a candidate has to set aside Rs.4 lakh for the campaign of national- or State-level leaders, leaving him or her with Rs.8 lakh. With expenditure on each vehicle estimated at Rs.1,200 a day, a three-week use would push a candidates expenditure on one vehicle alone to about Rs.25,000. Candidates said that deploying 20 vehicles would account for Rs.5 lakh.

Any talk of money power in Karnatakas politics invariably turns to the mining lobby in Bellary, where most of the mine owners have turned multimillionaires thanks to iron-ore exports, especially to China, and the boom in steel prices. Mine owners such as G. Karunakara Reddy, his brothers Somashekhara and Janardhana, and close associate B. Sreeramalu, who helped the BJP win eight of Bellarys nine seats, were reportedly instrumental in getting all the six elected independents to back the BJP. Part of the BJPs negotiating team, they were at the Raj Bhavan when B.S. Yeddyurappa staked his claim to form the government.

While Janardhana Reddy is a Member of the Legislative Council, Somashekhara Reddy won the Bellary City seat and Karunakara Reddy the Harpanahalli seat, which is now part of Davangere district following the reorganisation of some district. Sreeramalu won the Bellary Rural Seat. The Congress, too, has its moneyed representatives, Bellary mine owners Santosh Lad, who won from Kalghatgi in Dharwad district, and Anil Lad, who lost to Somashekhara Reddy.

Yet another indication of the role of money power is the choice of candidates by the major parties for the 28 seats in Bangalore. Almost all of them had declared assets worth crores of rupees. Real estate tycoon D. Kupendra Reddy of the Congress declared assets of Rs.180 crore and the BJPs G. Prasad Reddy declared assets of Rs.220 crore.

Said a newly elected legislator: The first question every political party asks prospective candidates is their financial capacity to: a) fund their own campaign, and b) contribute to the partys coffers. Besides handing out money, we have to spend on liquor, saris, jewellery, electronic goods, cell phones, biryani and on bringing bogus voters and even buying scooters and motorcycles.

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