The Big Story: Cash for votes

With 12 days to go for the Assembly elections on May 12, Karnataka is struggling to rescue the electoral process from being hijacked by money power.

On Monday, the Chief Electoral Officer Sanjiv Kumar said that Rs 136 crore worth of cash, freebies and liquor had been seized in the state since the model code of conduct came into force on March 27. About 90% of the currency seized was in Rs 2,000 notes, indicating that this cash-for-votes game is no longer about handing out a few hundreds.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, as last year’s experience in Tamil Nadu showed. In 2017, the Election Commission had a tough time conducting the simple bye-election to the Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar constituency. The commission had to postpone the election after evidence suggested that at least Rs 89 crore had been distributed to voters in the constituency. When the election was eventually conducted in December, it was no better. Allegations of largescale cash distribution continued. Eventually, independent candidate TTV Dinakaran defeated both the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the main opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam by a huge margin. But on Sunday, when Dinakaran visited Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar, his constituents staged a protest against him. They waved the Rs 20 notes that had allegedly been given to them as a token during the campaign, to be swapped later for a larger amount of money. Voters were upset that they had not received the promised bribe.

Every time there is an election, the Election Commission puts out strong warnings to parties against distributing cash. But on the ground, the commission does not have the infrastructure necessary to take on the organisational might of the political parties to stop this practice.

As the Election Commission has stated over the years, cash distribution has the potential to completely undermine democracy. The ruling parties have a big advantage, given their hold over the state machinery. It also discourages new political entrants. If bribes are the big factor, public-spirited political aspirants would have no chance against the political parties. In fact, the fallout of this phenomenon are already visible in Tamil Nadu, where political parties specifically ask potential candidates how much money they could spend on the elections.

Unless the Election Commission gets its act together and devises innovative, efficient strategies to fight this problem, the spread of the cash-for-votes menace to more states is inevitable.

The Big Scroll

RK Nagar bye-election result is not an anti-BJP vote, as commentators are claiming. It is a vote for cash.


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  2. In the Hindu, MA Oommen looks at why decentralised democratic governance has failed in India 25 years after it was introduced. 
  3.   Despite the criticism, the RBI’s decision requiring banks to report defaults of even a single day is a good one, says Bahram Vakil in Mint.


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