States round-up

Violations galore

Print edition : May 30, 2014

The BJP's election rally in Faizabad, addressed by its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, with the picture of Ram in the background, on May 5. Photo: PTI

Voters crowd around polling officials to search for their names on the electoral list at a polling booth in Mumbai on April 24. Photo: INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP

The police manning a polling booth in Burdwan district in West Bengal. Photo: PTI

Unaccounted cash worth Rs.79.90 lakh seized by election officials from two bus passengers, in Salem, Tamil Nadu. Photo: E. LAKSHMI NARAYANAN


Code no bar

UTTAR PRADESH has been the epicentre of violations of election rules and norms in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. Each of the seven phases of polling has witnessed one or the other case of violation of the model code of conduct stipulated by the Election Commission (E.C.). All the major political forces and their top leadership, including the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Samajwadi Party (S.P.) president Mulayam Singh Yadav and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal, have been accused of code violations on various counts. However, it was the BJP and the S.P. that led the pack of violators, hitting the headlines frequently. The BJP even sought to turn the charges of violations against it into a political instrument by launching a campaign against the E.C. for the denial of permission for a Modi rally in Varanasi.

The punitive provisions of the code were invoked repeatedly against Amit Shah, the BJP’s campaign manager for the State and Modi’s key associate, and Azam Khan of the S.P. for unleashing a blatant communal campaign in different parts of the State. The E.C. even banned them from campaigning. Amit Shah was booked for an inflammatory statement he made in Muzaffarnagar, a town that was rocked by communal riots in August 2013. He exhorted the Hindu voters to take revenge for the riots through the voting machines. Azam Khan also played the communal card from a Muslim angle. He claimed that it was Muslim soldiers who protected India during the Kargil conflict with Pakistan in 1999 and that Hindus did not play a positive role during the conflict.

When the E.C. lifted the ban on Shah, he lost no time in raking up yet another communal controversy. This time he described the Muslim-dominated Azamgarh, from where Mulayam Singh is contesting, as the nursery for jehadi terrorists. The branding of a whole town and district in derogatory terms evoked widespread criticism but, surprisingly, it did not evoke any immediate action from the E.C.

Modi was at the centre of a controversy twice during his campaign in the State. First, for his statement appealing to the people of Ayodhya and Faizabad to punish those who have desisted from building a grand temple for the mythical hero Ram in his mythical birthplace. The stage was set in such a way as to create an illusion of Ram’s crown being on Modi’s head. Soon after this, the E.C. denied permission for a Modi rally in Varanasi, drawing protests from the BJP leadership.

The E.C. reprimanded Mulayam Singh twice: for warning a section of government employees that their permanent staff status would be repealed if they did not support his party and for questioning the anti-rape law by stating that “boys do make mistakes” and they should not be given the death penalty.

Rahul Gandhi’s booth-to-booth travel on polling day in Amethi constituency also came under the scrutiny of E.C. observers.

While all these violations were aimed at garnering votes through whatever means, there was little doubt that the highly organised BJP converted the transgressions into an effective electoral strategy with a communal colour. Shah rolled out this game plan in western Uttar Pradesh through his Muzaffarnagar statement and it was followed up in other parts of the State by BJP functionaries at various levels.

In neighbouring Bihar, the agenda was taken forward by Giriraj Singh, a die-hard Modi supporter and BJP candidate from Nawada. He suggested that those who opposed Modi would be packed off to Pakistan, in what was seen as a veiled threat to the Muslim community.

The communal card was played effectively in eastern Uttar Pradesh, where the party had won only four of the 33 seats in 2009. In the run-up to the 2014 elections, it was clear that despite the high-profile campaign on the basis of the political personality of Modi and the so-called Gujarat model of development, eastern Uttar Pradesh was still under the hold of the caste-based identity politics advanced by the S.P. and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

The targeting of Azamgarh and Ayodhya was aimed at overcoming identity politics and increasing communal polarisation—a tactic the BJP adopted in western Uttar Pradesh through the Muzaffarnagar riots. In the process, Modi sought to play up his Other Backward Classes (OBC) background by misinterpreting a comment made by Priyanka Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi’s sister. She had accused Modi of playing low-level politics. Modi turned the phrase around saying that Priyanka was referring to his “lower caste” status. He said he belonged to a socially lower caste and that was why the Congress found his politics low. Clearly, this retort was aimed at cutting into the social bases of the BSP and the S.P. Indications from the ground are that the BJP’s double-edged attack has indeed helped the party make some gains.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan


Missing voters

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

IT would not be inappropriate to borrow this cliched phrase from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet to describe the three-phase Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra. The wrongful deletion of around 6.5 lakh names from the electoral rolls in the State has enraged the voters.

On April 24, when the third phase of elections was held in the State, thousands of voters in Mumbai found to their dismay that their names were not on the list. The rage mounted as more and more people discovered that their names were on the list but with the stamp, ‘Deleted’, across them; that some names were missing entirely; that the names of only some family members were on the list; that the names of residents of entire housing societies had been deleted; that all members of a family were not eligible to vote at the same polling station; that names that were not on the online list appeared on the physical list at the polling booth; and that some names were on the draft electoral rolls but not on the final rolls.

The anger spread rapidly. Soon there was a Facebook page called “I am a Deleted Voter”. Set up by Archit Jayakar of the legal firm Jayakar & Partners, the page invited disenfranchised citizens to write in. The response was immediate. “Within hours there were more than 400 responses,” said Jayakar. Taking the next logical step, Jayakar & Partners filed a public interest petition in the Bombay High Court on behalf of Action for Good Governance and Networking in India (AGNI) and Birthright, both non-governmental organisations.

The petition was filed in “the interest of citizens who were not given an opportunity to cast their vote for the Lok Sabha elections as their names were arbitrarily deleted from the electoral rolls”. Citizen affidavits poured in, all affirming that they had been wrongfully struck off the list. By the time the petition was filed on April 29, the petitioners had been approached by approximately 6,500 voters (those who have not changed their residence and are still alive) with complaints that their names had been wrongfully struck off the list.

According to the “Deleted Voters List” available on the website of the E.C., the number of deleted voters for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections is 2,10,123 in Mumbai city and its suburbs. Jayakar, who is also a trustee of Birthright, said the filing of the petition was an impromptu move fuelled by the sense of injustice felt by those deprived of their right to vote. “It [election day] is the one day when you have some power in your hands,” he said.

The E.C. can delete voters’ names only for two reasons, death or change of residence. Before doing this, the E.C. has to issue a show-cause notice and give the person concerned (if he/she is alive) a hearing. The handbook for Electoral Registration Officers states: “It is very important that proper enquiry and verification should be made before deleting a person’s name from the electoral rolls. The officer ordering deletion should personally satisfy himself that the deletion is justified because the right to vote, which is a statutory right, is taken away by such deletion.”

In its defence, the E.C. said it had done its bit by issuing advertisements asking voters to verify that their names were on the list. “Mere publishing of a notice in a newspaper is no substitute for the procedure nor is it allowed by the rules,” said Jayakar. He also pointed out that “Article 326 of the Constitution provides that any person who is a citizen of India and who is otherwise not disqualified shall be entitled to be registered as a voter. And if I have voted in the last election, have not changed my place of residence and am still alive, I can presume that I am still on the list.” But the E.C. apparently thought otherwise.

Advocate General Darius Khambatta, who argued for the E.C., said: “Extensive lists were published, there were huge campaigns [to alert voters]. People cannot say in 2009 our names were on the list and so we can presume they will be there in 2014.”

Arun Bhatia, a retired bureaucrat and an independent candidate for the Pune seat, said: “People did not check in good faith. If they were already on the list and had voted in earlier elections and had not changed their homes, they did not think they were the ones being called on to check.”

Ashutosh Kumbhakoni, senior counsel for the petitioners, said: “Are members of the public supposed to check the list even if their circumstances have not changed? Or am I not supposed to believe in the competence of the E.C. and the fact that they are to act in accordance with the law?” He called for serious review by the E.C. of its own procedures and practices. There needs to be clarity on one point. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that a voter’s name is on the list? Is the onus on the voter or the E.C.? If the onus is on the voter, the E.C.’s advertisements asking voters to check if their names were on the rolls should have clearly said that the names of those who did not check the rolls would be deleted. However, this would be unconstitutional and so, clearly the onus is on the E.C. to ensure that all voters are bona fide. A door-to-door check to verify the existence and address of the voter is what is prescribed by the law. After this, a show-cause notice is to be issued to voters and a hearing given. But the E.C. did not follow its own procedures of sending individual notices to voters whose names were going to be deleted even though it claims to have done so.

Given the number of people who could not cast their vote, allegations of political manipulation of the rolls spread thick and fast. Indeed, Jayakar’s petition says: “The respondents have either fallen prey to pressures from vested interests or are guilty of gross dereliction of duty... going by the trends of the Lok Sabha election for 2009, and assuming that the names of all the 2,10,123 voters were illegally deleted in Mumbai city and Mumbai suburbs, such a number is large enough to have a bearing on the election results.”

The petition also says: “... such deletions on a mass scale amount to intentionally tampering with the electoral rolls and are nothing short of a fraud on democracy and a fraud on the citizens of India.”

The Congress and the BJP are both throwing accusations of manipulation at each other. Kirit Somaiya, the BJP’s candidate from Mumbai North-East, has filed a police complaint for “criminal negligence and conspiracy”. He said more than a lakh names were either deleted or missing in his constituency. While the BJP claimed that most of the deleted names were of traditional BJP and Shiv Sena voters, the Congress alleged that a vast number of Muslim names had been removed from the rolls.

In Pune, too, NGOs have collected about 20,000 names of voters who were either not included or deleted wrongfully from the voters’ list. There are allegations that the act is politically motivated.

Bhatia, a former Municipal Commissioner of the Pune Municipal Corporation, said, “Most of the deletions were from middle-class neighbourhoods. Slums account for 40 per cent of Pune’s total population, and 80 per cent of the slum-dwellers vote. The middle-class vote accounts for 12 per cent. This time, we exhorted the middle class to vote. And they were ready to vote in a non-traditional way.” Bhatia’s contention is that the big parties saw the smaller parties and independent candidates as threats.

Why did this occur on such a vast scale in Maharashtra?

Jayakar said that the E.C. explained that Maharashtra’s electoral rolls had not been cleaned up systematically. New names were added and the invalid ones were not deleted. There were names with photographs missing. While the national average for the name-photo match was about 90 per cent, in Maharashtra it was about 70 per cent. Apparently, the deleted voters are victims of the E.C.’s eagerness to catch up with the national average. After the uproar, the E.C. tried to defend itself saying that it was short-staffed and that the deletions were just the pitfalls of housekeeping. Later, it was forced to accept responsibility and admit its error. But, as the petition says, this is not enough. The E.C.’s behaviour has also been arbitrary and illegal as is documented by the petition. The cut-off date for inclusion in the rolls was March 25, but on April 22 (two days before the third phase of polling in Mumbai), about 500 residents of South Mumbai realised that their names were not on the rolls. They approached the District Electoral Officer, who verified the facts and included their names on the list.

In another instance that showcases the bungling by the E.C., lawyers representing Pune NGOs who are fighting a similar case claimed that there were one lakh cases of duplicate voting in Sangli and Pune.

One of the defences Khambatta put forward on behalf of the E.C. was that the deletions were essential to remove bogus voters. Clearly, the one lakh duplicate voters who voted in Pune and Sangli managed to evade the E.C.’s scanner.

Calling the wrongful deletions “arbitrary”, “illegal” and a “blot on democracy”, the petition asked for judicial redress in the form of a re-poll in segments where the names had been struck off. After verifying the bona fides of the voters, the E.C. should permit them to cast their votes. These votes should be counted if the margin of victory is less than the number of deleted voters in that particular constituency, it said. The solution ensures that the deleted voters get a chance to vote and that the candidates get a chance of improve their margins.

The crux of the issue was summed up by a lawyer arguing for the disenfranchised voters of Pune. He put it succinctly: “A valid electoral roll is the basis of a valid election.” In this context, Maharashtra cannot be said to have held a fair election.

Lyla Bavadam


Wine and vendetta

ELECTION campaigns in Punjab have never been bereft of personal attacks on political opponents. Free distribution of liquor and narcotic drugs by the major contestants has been a common feature of all the elections. The political slugfest between the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP combine and the Congress assumed huge proportions in April/May because the bigwigs contesting the parliamentary elections turned the contest into a prestige issue. For instance, Congress’ Captain Amarinder Singh is taking on the BJP’s Arun Jaitley in Amritsar; the SAD’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal is taking on her husband and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal’s cousin Manpreet Singh Badal of the Congress in Bhatinda; and State Congress chief Pratap Singh Bajwa is fighting Bollywood actor and BJP leader Vinod Khanna in Gurdaspur.

The net result is a gross violation of the model code. What is unique about these violations in Punjab is, one, the involvement of the state machinery in abusing its power and, two, the open manifestation of the control of the feudal forces, mostly Jat Sikhs, over the elections.

The E.C. issued a notice to Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal following a complaint against him by a former legislator, Sukhpal Khaira. Badal had declared at a public meeting that “crores are spent on campaigning, though we show less in expenditure details…. Give quietly, don’t give openly.”

In utter disregard of the code, Tikshan Sood, political adviser to the Chief Minister, and Swaran Salaria, the State’s Child Rights Commission Chairman, a government functionary expected to be non-partisan, campaigned for the BJP despite holding government posts.

In panchayats and blocks across the State, government officials openly campaigned for the SAD-BJP combine. In one instance, the E.C. ordered the transfer of three officials for campaigning. According to several villagers this correspondent spoke to, government officials distributed liquor and drugs in Bhatinda. “We have seized naroctic drugs worth Rs.732 crore, including 145 kilograms of heroin and 2.68 lakh litres of illicit liquor,” Punjab’s Joint Chief Electoral Officer Amit Talwar said.

The second aspect of the violations is the pursuit of personal vendettas during the campaign and the use of cuss words against political opponents. This is largely the result of the feudal mindset of the leaders of the State, irrespective of the party they belong to. Jat Sikhs control most of the political and economic resources of the State. The use of cuss words is legitimised within the context of the martial history of Jat Sikhs.

For example, the SAD’s Bikram Singh Majithia, who was recently barred by the E.C. from campaigning in Amritsar, said “ Dhaun napp deyange” (We will hold him by the neck) referring to Amarinder Singh. Similarly, Amarinder Singh called Jaitley “a liar” and addressed him as “that fellow” who can only “route his entry through the back door”.

Words such as maverick, mercenary, goonda, chor, cunning man and hypocrite have been used frequently.

However, what the Jat Sikh political leaders consider to be useful tools for political mobilisation might not have impressed a sizable population of Punjab. In fact, the use of such language reflects the disconnect between the political leaders and the masses. “The use of cuss words, made famous by Majithia and Amarinder Singh, not only reflect the feudal mentality of our political leaders but is demeaning to a vast majority of poor people in the State, who have suffered these abuses at the hands of their landlords every day. It is for this reason that a significant population of the State, which has the highest percentage of Dalits in India [28 per cent], find the elections fundamentally undemocratic,” said a senior AAP leader in Punjab.

Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta


Violent phases

West Bengal has not been a stranger to election-related violence in recent times. This round of general election in the State was no exception. By the time the third phase of the five-phase elections was over on April 30, eight people had died and hundreds were injured.

Amid the opposition parties’ allegations of widespread violence, rigging and intimidation by the ruling All India Trinamool Congress, particularly during the third phase, the E.C. on May 3 sought a detailed report with unedited video footage of 43 polling booths spread over four Lok Sabha constituencies—Hooghly, Howrah, Bardhaman-Durgapur and Birbhum. The E.C. also set up a three-member panel comprising Special Observer Sudhir Kumar Rakesh, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Sunil Kumar Gupta, and Additional Director General of Police (law and order) M.K. Singh to study the reports of district officials and the opinions of the candidates for the remaining two phases on May 7 and May 12.

The E.C.’s decision came in the wake of the outcry by all opposition parties against the prevailing violence. Until May 2, the office of the CEO had received 980 complaints from political parties, and 2,063 from voters. The Special Observer’s reaction seemed to be ambivalent and non-committal. “Peaceful, I do not know. But overall the polling was free and fair,” Sudhir Kumar Rakesh said.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front has claimed that the ruling party had been resorting to terror tactics against its workers and supporters right from the first phase of elections on April 17, particularly in the districts of Alipurduar and Coochbehar. “Presiding officers and polling agents of candidates opposed to the ruling party were terrorised. Voters were also prevented from going to the booths…. The Election Commission remained a silent spectator,” said CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and chairman of the Left Front Committee in West Bengal Biman Bose in a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner. The CPI(M) also pointed out that on April 30, of the 17,330 booths where polling had taken place, only 324 had video surveillance of any sort.

The Congress too was not short of complaints. Senior Congress leader and candidate for the Balurghat seat, Om Prakash Mishra, said: “Trinamool-backed goons were unrelenting as the day of the election approached. Intimidation, tearing up banners, attempts to restrict the movement of party workers, and threatening non-Trinamool voters—all these were employed before the elections. Repeated complaints to the Election Commission went unheeded.”

The opposition parties also complained that there was no proper deployment of Central forces to ensure the security of the voters in the first three phases and demanded that Central forces be deployed in every polling booth in the last two phases.

Both the CPI(M) and the Congress sought the removal of the Special Observer. “We have lost faith in the Special Observer Sudhir Kumar Rakesh, and demand that he be withdrawn from the State as it is difficult to hold peaceful elections if he continues to remain here,” said Pradesh Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. The CPI(M), which demanded re-polling in 1,313 booths in the third phase, said there was a “yawning gap” between what the E.C. had promised and what it actually delivered.

Concern was expressed not only by political parties but also civil society. A team of artistes, writers and intellectuals, including the film legend Soumitra Chatterjee, the director Buddhadeb Dasgupta, former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee and the eminent academic Mihir Bhattacharya wrote to the CEO seeking the E.C.’s immediate intervention “to restore public confidence in the State’s democratic process”. In the first two phases of the elections held in the districts of north Bengal, in spite of complaints of widespread rigging in certain regions, there was no re-election as the opposition had apparently failed to provide specific details.

Even the E.C. was not spared the violence. E.C. officials were beaten up allegedly by Trinamool activists in Malda, Howrah and Medinipur districts. The Commission also had a run-in with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee when the former ordered days before the first phase the removal of eight district officials from election duty. A constitutional crisis that threatened to temporarily disrupt the election process was avoided only when a fuming State government finally relented and accepted the E.C.’s decision.

Suhrid Sankar Chattopadhyay


A new ‘social contract’

WITH the maximum seizure of hard cash and liquor during the latest edition of simultaneous elections to the State Assembly and the Lok Sabha, Andhra Pradesh has earned the dubious distinction of topping the list of States violating the election code.

By May 5, when the campaign for the second phase of polling in the Seemandhra region came to a close, the police had seized Rs.137.43 crore in cash and 5.5 lakh litres of liquor. This is about half of what was recovered across the country, making a mockery of the model code of conduct for elections stipulated by the E.C. This apart, 74 kilograms of gold and 933 kg of silver were seized.

Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu of Andhra Pradesh Election Watch said that those who made the most of the corrupt system opened their money bags to ensure an uninterrupted flow of money and liquor in order to win another term in office and multiply their ill-gotten wealth.

The scale of corruption and the flow of easy money in the State in the past decade or so can be estimated from the initiation of grandiose schemes with massive investments such as the Rs.65,000-crore Jalayagnam to build a string of irrigation projects. There have been allegations that cuts were fixed for officials, contractors and subcontractors for executing the projects. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s reports in the past few years pointed out several irregularities in the allotment of contracts leading to a huge loss to the exchequer. The scheme was initiated by the Congress government headed by Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy.

The subsequent inquiry conducted by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) revealed that licences were given to industrialists and businessmen close to YSR Congress Party president Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy and that large chunks of government land were allotted to them in return for investment in his companies. At least half a dozen industrialists who were beneficiaries of such deals are in the fray.

A common feature of the Lok Sabha elections in Andhra Pradesh is the entry of irrigation and infrastructure project contractors into the hallowed precincts of Parliament. Their number has risen now. Some of these candidates have been asked by their respective political parties to pay a share of the funding of candidates contesting in the Assembly segments falling under their parliamentary constituencies.

This time the stakes are high as the contractor contestants expect huge infrastructure development in both Seemandhra and Telangana when the States are formed on June 2. According to Rakesh, the candidates see the elections as a golden opportunity to make big money by becoming people’s representatives first and then win more contracts once they are in power.

Expenditure sensitive

Bhanwar Lal, Chief Electoral Officer of Andhra Pradesh, admitted that the E.C. was concerned about the growing money power in the elections and categorised the State as “expenditure sensitive”, calling for extra vigilance and posting of flying squads. Bhanwar’s warning that candidates exceeding the election expenditure limit could face disqualification for the next six years did not have any effect on them.

He said political parties adopted ingenious methods such as the nationalised banks’ electronic funds transfer systems to transfer cash to voters. Election officials noted a perceptible increase in the withdrawal of amounts from the automated teller machines (ATMs). For instance, in Medak district in the Telangana region, the withdrawal from ATMs in the run-up to the elections was 30 per cent more than the normal level.

With the State under President’s Rule since February 28 following the passage of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill to carve out Telangana, the police were able to track unaccounted money unhindered by political pressure. The police seized cash ranging from Rs.2 crore in Rajahmundry to Rs.8.18 crore in Hyderabad.

Kamala, the wife of former Minister K. Parthasarathy, was caught carrying cash worth Rs.45 lakh in a State Road Transport Corporation bus from Hyderabad to Guntur. Kamala denied that the amount was meant for inducing voters. She and her husband maintained that the cash was meant for payment of salaries to the employees of the construction firm she runs. Parthasarathy is contesting from the Machilipatnam Lok Sabha constituency on the YSR Congress Party ticket.

In another instance, the police recovered half-burnt currency notes worth Rs.2.5 crore from under the bonnet of a sports utility vehicle owned by the firm run by Uttam Kumar Reddy, former Minister and the Congress candidate for the Huzurnagar Assembly seat. Uttam Kumar feigned ignorance, but the police booked a case.

Apart from offering inducements such as cash and liquor, the candidates lured the voters of Andhra Pradesh with gold and silver ornaments, cricket kits, saris, mobile phones, gas cylinders, television sets and air coolers.

K. Venkateshwarlu


Pay Peter to rob Peter

Andha panathai thoduvadarkku kai koosa vendum” [the hand should shudder to touch that money],” Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s lodestar C.N. Annadurai said at a public meeting in Kancheepuram, where he was seeking re-election in the 1962 Assembly elections. The reference was to the Congress trying a new underhand method to defeat him. “They are distributing money for votes.... I am asking the police why should you protect the Congress workers when they are distributing the money? You might as well start it yourself....”

The Kancheepuram electorate was enticed with a princely sum of Rs.5. The money was placed on the picture of Venkateswara, the presiding deity of the Tirumala temple in Andhra Padesh, and the receiver of the “blessed” money was asked to promise that he/she would vote for the Congress. Annadurai’s plea fell flat. The Congress candidate S.V. Natesa Mudaliar won the election, polling 9,190 votes more than the DMK’s founder leader.

Thus emerged the Kancheepuram formula, which has been used by political parties in subsequent elections in different, fine-tuned ways since then. An electorate that is too desperate to reject any monetary or material offer, field-level political workers who view money distribution as an easy way to mobilise votes, an ineffective or accommodating official machinery, and a stretched E.C. have made money a decisive factor in the elections in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Tirumangalam formula

Annadurai’s followers adapted themselves to the new trend with an ideological flexibility typical of a Dravidian party. M.K. Azhagiri, DMK president M. Karunanidhi’s son, faced the allegation of perfecting the cash-for-votes technique in a byelection in 2009, which he was tasked to win for the party. The “Tirumangalam formula”, as it came to be known, involved paying the voters an amount that is way beyond his/her expectations. “Azhagiri paid 5,000 rupees per voter in Thirumangalam,” says Frederick J. Kaplan, Acting Principal Officer of the United States Consulate-General in Chennai, in a cable sent to the State Department in May 2009, and accessed by WikiLeaks.

How much money is distributed and how are large amounts moved from place to place? Enquiries with senior functionaries of political parties revealed that a serious candidate from a main-line political party would spend about Rs.2 crore to Rs.3 crore for an Assembly seat. The amount required for a parliamentary election is between Rs.18 crore and Rs.20 crore. Increasingly, political parties give the ticket to rich aspirants so that the party does not have to spend money on their election.

The expenses incurred by political parties and candidates for the April 24 Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu shot up as political parties launched their campaigns soon after the announcement of the election schedule in early March.

The main items of expenditure are the “bribe” for the electorate and maintenance of the campaign machinery. A parliamentary constituency has 2,500 to 2,700 booths. The area covered by a booth has to be manned by a team of 10-15 cadres. In Tamil Nadu, each team got a lump sum payment in three instalments—Rs.2,500 to Rs.5,000 in the first instalment, a similar amount in the second instalment, and an amount ranging from Rs.7,000 to Rs.25,000 in the third.

“The expense metre starts running, non-stop. If the party is in an alliance, the allies too have to be taken care of,” a senior party leader said. The cost of hiring a campaign vehicle with a public address system works out to more than Rs.6,000 a day. The E.C. allows the use of two such vehicles in a taluk. Usually, the candidate is expected to visit all the temples and places of worship in the constituency, and these are all expense points, since the local people expect the candidate to “help” them for the upkeep of their place of worship.

Aarthi & dakshinas

The “aarthi” ritual, which gained popularity in the 1986 Arupukkottai byelection when almost every voter was encouraged to carry a plate with lighted camphor as a form of obeisance, has caught on. In 1986, the candidate himself could hand over the dakshina (donation) for performing the ritual. This act has become more refined now since an E.C.-appointed videographer accompanies every candidate. The dakshina distribution is handled by the party’s village secretary soon after the candidate’s entourage leaves the village. A donation of Rs.100 is paid for every aarthi.

“On some days, we have ended up spending over a lakh on the aarthis,” a district functionary confessed. Each Dalit colony has to be visited and Dalit elders given due respect with gifts and shawls. The candidate has to also take care of the visits of party leaders and star campaigners. The main item of expense is bringing the cadre for a public meeting. One party uniformly gave Rs.200, a ‘quarter’ bottle of alcohol, and a packet of biryani to each member of the crowd. Another gave Rs.100 and the same quantity of alcohol and food for each participant.

Money usually flows unhindered in the last 10 days when parties switch to door-to-door campaigning. Each parliamentary constituency has at least 10 taluks, and about 500 cadres are used for the intensive campaign. They have to be provided food, transport and a small incentive. Money distribution is handled exclusively by party loyalists, with the block secretary at the helm. “It will not reach [the intended voters] if the candidate tries to control the distribution,” a former Minister said.

Political parties would not dare to stop the distribution of cash by opponents fearing the wrath of the voter. Opposition politicians in Tamil Nadu alleged that this time the police did not check vehicles on the move during the last three days of the campaign.

It is only after the model code comes into force that the E.C. begins checking the movement of cash and other violations. Most candidates and parties move money much ahead of the announcement of the election schedule. There are instances of candidates falling short of cash being forced to borrow from partymen in a different location. This is where large retailers who have expertise in routinely moving vast sums of cash from one point to another enter the scene. Cash can also be accessed from the local moneylender.

“I once fell short by about Rs.25 lakh. I had the money in a different town, but did not want to risk moving it. So I borrowed from a local pawn shop and gave it back to him a week later at 3 per cent interest,” a candidate who contested the 2011 Assembly elections said. Functionaries across the political spectrum in Tamil Nadu agreed that the 2014 Lok Sabha election expenses were much lower than that of the 2011 Assembly elections. The Left parties do not indulge in cash-for-votes.

In Elections for Sale: The Causes and Consequences of Vote Buying [Frederic Charles Schaffer (Ed.), Viva Books, New Delhi, 2008], Schaffer underlines the fact that cash-for-votes is prevalent all over: “In many corners of the world, it seems, a blossoming market for votes has emerged as an epiphenomenon of democratisation.” The paradox is that “vote buying is particularly damaging to the collective interests of the poor, which is ironic insofar as the poor are also its main beneficiaries.”

R.K. Radhakrishnan


Cash and caste

ON a side road in a sleepy village in Karnataka’s Channapatna taluk in Bangalore Rural constituency, this correspondent was taken aback when a 500-rupee note was about to be pressed into his hand by a Lok Sabha candidate who was campaigning in the area. Reading the surprise on my face and quickly realising that I was not a voter from the village, his supporters guided the candidate away from the scene. He continued his campaign clutching the currency note.

A few yards away, he dipped his hand into the pocket of his crisp khadi shirt and pulled out another currency note and gave it to someone in the crowd he appeared to have clearly recognised. The candidate repeated this action as he walked past mud houses or when he stepped into some of the houses to sip the cool drink offered by wide-eyed women.

Money and caste identity are the two essential ingredients needed to win an election, observes a candidate. According to informed sources, upwards of Rs.20 crore was needed to have a realistic chance of winning a Lok Sabha seat. Urban constituencies such as Bangalore, Mangalore and Mysore would require a lot more in terms of cash as the costs would be that much higher. Most of the funds would have to be mobilised by the candidates themselves, with the party providing varying amounts depending on the candidate’s stature, caste and winnability. (The E.C.’s code stipulates that each candidate is entitled to spend a maximum of Rs.70 lakh and it is mandatory for the nominee to file daily expenses. This is not followed.)

Across the political spectrum, the consensus view is that while booth capturing and physical violence have come down drastically, the elections are far from free and fair. There is no level playing field for all the candidates and the obvious distortions only favour the powerful. Although the number of election code violations in the State was lower this time compared with the 2009 elections, the E.C. ordered a re-election in 12 polling stations spread across 11 Assembly segments in nine Lok Sabha constituencies.

A senior State Minister told Frontline on condition of anonymity that the Congress, the BJP and the Janata Dal (Secular) would have each spent upwards of Rs.1,500 crore. He said campaigning for the April 17 elections was delayed because funds from the party’s headquarters had not reached the candidates.

Liquid cash, he explained, was needed to pay party workers, community leaders, and henchmen, and for publicity material, fuel for vehicles and food and drinks, the most popular ones being “beer and chicken/mutton biryani”. Around Rs.2 crore to Rs.3 crore is spent on hiring crowds for public meetings and towards booth management. Each hired supporter is paid between Rs.500 and Rs.1,000.

With the demand for liquid cash becoming high during elections, the E.C. was able to seize currency notes worth crores of rupees. E.C. officials seized Rs.9.97 crore in Bellary alone. A case has been booked against a trader in Bangalore who was caught distributing sari packets sent from Gujarat, which had the image of Narendra Modi printed on them.

Volunteers of the AAP took pictures of money being distributed outside a polling booth in Bangalore Rural and filed a complaint with the police. But no action was taken against the party (the Congress) or the candidate (D.K. Suresh), said Prithivi Reddy, executive committee member of the AAP. She said the AAP was considering filing a public interest petition holding the E.C. responsible for failing to prevent the violations. “Officials of the E.C., especially those at the lower levels, accept the distribution of money as standard practice,” she said.

Veteran politician and former Minister P.G.R. Sindhia said: “It is an untruth, hypocrisy to say that elections in Indian are fair and free. I have been fighting elections in Karnataka since 1971 and I can safely say that the use of money has gone up exponentially. Political parties are not interested in strengthening democracy; instead they are fine-tuning and intensifying the use of black money. At the higher levels of the E.C., there may be a desire to impose the rules, but the same cannot be said of the lower level staff, the constables, the revenue inspectors, the people manning the checkposts…. To get past the checkposts, the contestants or the parties would have to pay as bribe a fraction of the huge amount of money that is being transported through them.”

Curiously enough, many of these checkposts were dismantled by the E.C. two days before the election date, when the transportation of inducements such as liquor, food and money was at its peak.

Sindhia, who toured 15 of the 28 constituencies in the run-up to the elections, said the three main political parties would have spent at least Rs.100,000 at each of the 54,261 polling booths in Karnataka.

Ravi Sharma

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