Digital bribes to voters big concern

The May 12 Assembly election in Karnataka is very important for all the contenders in the fray, and the results will have an impact outside the boundaries of the state. (DH file photo)

Ensuring free and fair elections is a serious challenge, especially in these vitiated times when no illegality and impropriety is taboo for political parties, candidates, their supporters and opponents. The May 12 Assembly election in Karnataka is very important for all the contenders in the fray, and the results will have an impact outside the boundaries of the state. So, all means, fair and foul, are bound to be used to win the election and to defeat the rival. The Election Commission therefore has a serious responsibility to ensure that the elections are conducted in the best manner, without being vitiated by any misdemeanours and illegalities. It will have to keep a close watch on the conduct of leaders of parties and their representatives, candidates, officials and all other stakeholders. This is going to be a tough task. The watch has to cover all aspects and facets of the election like campaigning, observance of the model code of conduct, voting, counting and the declaration of the results. 

Tracking the use of money will be the most serious task as bribing voters will perhaps be the biggest threat to the purity of elections. Over Rs 30 crore and large quantities of drugs, alcohol and articles like sarees and pressure cookers, that were meant to bribe voters, have been seized in the state. These are things that can be found and seized, but an invisible and more insidious way of bribing voters may be emerging in this election. That is, digital transfer of money, especially through apps, to bribe voters and for other purposes like evading the norms on poll expenditure. Chief Election Commissioner OP Rawat has said that this has become a major challenge for the commission as it is difficult to track digital payments and certain app-based transactions. 

The commission will have to take the problem seriously and deploy the best technology and expertise to deal with it. In this context, a great danger to electoral democracy is posed by the possibility of Aadhaar numbers being used to transfer money to bank accounts linked to those numbers. Election managers have always been a step ahead of the commission in these matters. The CEC has himself admitted that bribes influenced the recent by-election in RK Nagar in Tamil Nadu. He has said that bank transactions will be watched and the income tax department will keep a vigil in Karnataka. But it should be noted that all the dubious transactions after the demonetisation exercise are still being scrutinised, without any great results. All digital transactions have trails, but there has to be the will and effort to follow the trails and nail those who misuse them. 

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