Money mindset

Print edition : July 22, 2016

J. Mohamed Shanavas of the VCK, who contested from Kunnam constituency. Photo: A. Muralitharan

THE limit of Rs.28 lakh set for a candidate’s election expenditure is unrealistic, says a former Member of the Legislative Assembly in Tamil Nadu. The Election Commission (E.C.), he says, is aware of this. “There is a minimum of 200 booths in a constituency. At the rate of 10 persons in a booth’s area, this alone amounts to 2,000 people working in a constituency for a candidate. Gone are the days when a candidate would work in the morning, go home for lunch and come back for the evening party work. Now, food has to be provided most certainly for all the 2,000 people for a period of 25 days [which is the minimum number of days specified for campaigning]. This entails an additional expenditure of at least Rs.200 a person a day, the minimum amount that a party worker expects from the candidate,” the former MLA said.

So the minimum amount required to keep the “force” on the ground would work out to Rs.1 crore (that is, 2,000 cadre x Rs.200 x 25 days), way above the cap set by the E.C.

The shift from policy-driven and principled campaigning to money-driven campaigning is primarily because the candidates’ political masters are keen to purchase votes, conversations with lower-level cadre across political parties show.

For his part, the booth-level worker tries to wangle his share. “If the candidate can spend so much to get votes, he should be able to pay us too,” said a booth-level worker. This correspondent is aware of several cadre-level workers who refused to campaign or shifted loyalties because there were no monetary benefits.

A former councillor said: “There was a time when a booth-level worker’s job was to ensure that every voter in the locality turned up to vote. Now, his main job is to make sure that the money reaches voters. This change in his role is also responsible for corruption among party workers.”

Several candidates this correspondent spoke to highlighted the change in the mindset of cadres.

“If you do not give them money, they will not work. Your family has to pull its weight. Then, you have to pay every single party worker,” a candidate’s relative said.

Asked if this held true for all parties, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader J. Mohamed “Aloor” Shanavas, who contested and lost the recent election from Kunnam (Perambalur district), said this was as big a problem as bribing voters.

“Candidates are forced to pay the booth agents, party workers who paint election graffiti, and those who do the propaganda. The whole culture is changing and even big leaders are not an exception. Everyone has to pay for everything. There is no way all these expenses can be met within the ceiling set by the E.C.,” he said.

One candidate said he borrowed more than Rs.4 crore just for this purpose. For him, the money for distribution among voters came from the party.

Two other candidates said they were forced to shell out much more than what was actually distributed to voters because of pilferage at various levels. “If I want to reach 80 per cent of the voters, I will have to pay for 90 per cent of the voters,” one candidate said.

However professionally managed the campaign, there was bound to be pilferage, another candidate said. The norm is that 10 per cent of the money gets lost at multiple levels.

R.K. Radhakrishnan