Tamil Nadu has once again set a wrong record. With less than 20 days to go for elections, cash, gift articles, and liquor flow freely in the state that has been categorised by the Election Commission of India (ECI) as “expenditure sensitive.”
Authorities from various departments who keep round-the-clock vigil have seized unaccounted cash and materials, including gift items, worth Rs 127 crore in just 20 days after the Model Code of Conduct came into force on February 26.
Cash to the tune of Rs 50.86 crore, liquor worth Rs 1.32 crore, “freebies” with the value of Rs 14.06 crore, and “precious metals” worth Rs 61.04 crore have been seized in Tamil Nadu alone. The total worth of the seized or recovered items is Rs 127.64 crore.
The recovery comes as no surprise as political observers and poll watchers say the 2021 Assembly elections will be the “most expensive election” in Tamil Nadu's history. The state has had a chequered history on illegal spending by political parties and candidates – it also has the ignominy of witnessing elections being rescinded for rampant use of money power to buy votes.
Elections to Thanjavur, and Aravakurichi in 2016 and bypolls to R K Nagar constituency in 2017 were rescinded at the last minute as the ECI received several complaints of money being distributed in return for votes. Polls to Vellore Lok Sabha constituency were also cancelled after huge amounts of cash were seized from godowns belonging to relatives of a candidate.
The parties have gone beyond money to bribe the voters – candidates distribute home appliances, gold coins, and silver ornaments to the electorate. Naresh Gupta, former Chief Electoral Officer of Tamil Nadu, said it is the voters who have to take a view on not receiving cash for votes and exercising their franchise based on the merits of the candidates. “Money flow is not a new phenomenon, and it has been there for long. But the quantum depends, and political parties treat elections as a life and death issue. Voters should not succumb to temptation. Having said that, only a detailed investigation will reveal whether all the money seized was for distribution to people,” Gupta added.
Senior journalist R Mani feels cash for votes have increased to unimaginable proportions in the past 10 years in Tamil Nadu, where political parties come out with “out-of-the-box” ideas to bribe the voters. “The might of the Indian state has ensured that elections are conducted even in militancy-infested areas and in interior parts of the country. But the tragedy is the rampant use of the money during elections is threatening the Indian democracy. Both the parties in Tamil Nadu have made a mockery of the election process. They have destroyed the process by bribing the voters heavily,” he added.