R K Nagar bypoll: stern action must

The only option the Election Commission had in the R K Nagar Assembly constituency was to cancel the byelections to be held this week, as the poll process had been thoroughly vitiated by rampant money power. Cancellation was the least action it could take but given the enormity of the electoral crime committed, there is the need to consider if stronger measures are warranted. Recent elections in Tamil Nadu have been marked by blatant and large-scale bribing of voters. Manifestos have promised freebies and parties have delivered many of them after the elections. While such promises have some legitimacy, the doling out of money and other goodies to the voters before the elections on a very large scale undermines the idea and practice of free and fair elections and robs the process of all legitimacy. This practice, resorted to by all parties, has steadily gained strength in the state and reached enormous proportions in R K Nagar.

Distribution of money to voters touched unprecedented levels during the campaign. It was handed out not only as cash but in other forms like coupons to buy various things. Though all parties were guilty of paying the voters, the ruling AIADMK (Amma) breached all limits of
legality and propriety and indulged in a bribe mela with impunity. Its candidate and deputy general secretary of the party, T T V Dinakaran, had to win the election by any means to make a political and personal point. The EC seized lakhs of rupees during the campaign and filed a number of FIRs. Tax officials raided the house of state Health Minister Vijaya­baskar and found documents which showed that about Rs 90 crore was to be distributed to the voters. There was a systematic plan to distribute money, and none of the steps taken by the EC seemed to have had any effect. The EC had actually stepped up vigilance and surveillance by deploying more personnel and teams to monitor the campaign. But the Commission was effectively challenged and defied with impunity.

If the election had taken place it would have amounted to a mockery of democracy, whether Dinakaran won or lost. The infamous Thirumangalam formula, so called because the practice of systematic bribery of the voters became a norm in a byelection in that constituency some years ago, was taken to the extreme in R K Nagar. The cancellation of election may not be an adequate deterrent, and the EC should consider taking measures like debarring candidates for a certain period in such situations. The law should support such a strong preventive and remedial action in the interest of democracy, with safeguards against misuse.

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