Buying votes is established practice in India; its denial is also an established norm. Come elections, assembly or parliamentary, the scope to make quick bucks brighten up the minds of many ordinary folks in country.
There is rampant buying of votes going during this election and there is nothing secret about it, says a journalist covering the parliamentary election 2009. “Voters know this is the time to make money and are willing to auction their votes for a price. Since there is no polarization of votes this time as there no big issues, the political parties have little choice then to grease the palm of the voters, if they want to win the seat.”
A few press clips adds poignancy to this story. In Karnataka on April 10, 2009 police seized Rs.80 million in cash and a truck-load of liquor in two separate raids near Bellary town.
The cash was being transported in a G4S security agency vehicle from the head office of Axis Bank in Bangalore to its branch office in Bellary. The seized vehicle lacked valid documents and police suspect that transferring such a huge amount during elections could be meant for distribution to the voters.
In another raid, the Karnataka police seized a truck-load of liquor at a check-post during transit from the adjacent Davangere district. Bellary goes to polls in the first phase April 23, along with 16 other constituencies in the state.
In Andhra Pradesh police seized cash worth over Rs.50 million from different places of the state. Police had set up check posts to check illegal transfer of money, liquor, weapons and explosives and recovered wads of cash during search of vehicles. Obviously such huge amount must have been meant for buying the votes.
Candidates are coming out with novel methods to woo the voters. Several packets of chicken along with large number of liquor bottles were seized by of Andhra Pradesh police in the Karimnagar district. Each packet contained half to 1 kg of chicken meant to be distributed to the voters. It seems liquor and chicken were meant to spice up the drinking sessions of the voters.
Similarly, some non traditional items too have come up for distribution. Andhra Pradesh police seized large number of cricket kits and footballs meant for voters during this election.
In this context Tamil Nadu has set record of some sorts. In the Thirumangalam assembly by-election held in Madurai district on January 9, 2009, a vote was bought for Rs 7000, an unprecedented rate in the annals of Indian democracy.
In fact a clash broke out between those opposed taking money and those who wanted it. As no one likes to kick the “Laxmi,” the goddess of wealth, they kicked those who opposed taking the money.
There were reports from that election that in some places on the polling day, money was dropped in envelopes along with milk sachets delivered at homes before dawn.
Some candidates have invented innovative ways for eliciting a vote. A candidate offered saffron thread and betel leaf to a lady voter to ensure her vote. The idea was since articles are considered sacred any one accepting them can not make false promises.
There are some comical tales as well. In the Thirumangalam by-election, one voter went for a biryani feast organized by a political party, a day before the election. After coming back home, he found some of his goats missing. It took a while for him to realize that he had gorged on his own goats!
It’s said voters often take money from many parties but finally vote for the one they support. However, it’s easy said then done. The spies of the candidates work over time to ensure that nothing such sort of thing happens in the first place. This is cross checked on the day of the polling. The voters that have taken money for casting its vote are monitored by polling agents, when they show up to the polling booth. At some stage if it’s found that anyone has indulged in cross voting, then the life of such person is made miserable. It seems some kind of honesty has developed in this business as well.
The Election Commission specifies that not more than Rs 25 lakh can be spent by a candidate during an election. This amount is ridiculous even for municipal election in India. Given the size of parliamentary constituency, which is hundred times more than a municipal constituency, one can imagine the amount required for electioneering.
There is no unanimity among the political parties or the candidates on the amount to be spent for the electioneering. A horde for one-upmanship has developed on this issue. Since winning an election ensures plough of rent from politics for five years, there is no dearth of financers offering cheap credit. This is reflected in the huge flow of cash that’s visible on the streets during every election.
The moral popes many frown over such practice but the ordinary folks who are the prime beneficiaries of this illicit arrangement are a happy lot around this time. Actually elections are the only time when the rural India gets a chance to make merry and party and find happy moments in their dark life.
Even though elections are short lived and come after a long interval there is a sense of carnival attached to it. The free flow of food, liquor and money injects a great deal of enthusiasm among the voters towards elections. They turn out in large number, make merry have fun, and get joy rides in vehicles meant for canvassing during electioneering.
It seems some understanding has developed between the practitioners of democracy and its foot soldiers on such unconventional rules of democracy in India. While the practitioners of democracy want to fly its banner very high, the foot soldiers are unconcerned about the wisdom of the electoral process. What matters to them is how much money they can make or merry around during this dance of democracy.
As the juggernaut of Indian democracy rolls, such facets have become part and parcel of its electoral process. So the punch line is not “Jai Ho” but Papa don’t preach look for the party tonight!
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org