Columnists

Money, muscle decide outcome?

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 5/19/2019 12:45:37 PM IST

 Elections are becoming trickier, opaque and a game of money power. Rigging polls are no more a hush matter. In the run up to the 17th parliamentary election, the muscle and not so confidence-building EVM are overtaking voters.

The cost is increasing manifold and some estimates indicate that Indian elections are as expensive as the poll for the US presidency.

No electronic device is foolproof. The introduction of VVPAT print trail has been a welcome move. But Election Commission’s reluctance to count all printed slips foxes the voter. The EC has come out with a flimsy argument of longer time in declaring results, somewhere clumsily it wants to say that it would be an extra expense.

The EC forgets that an election that used to be over in about a month has been extended to three months. Is there any rationale? It appears earlier EC was more efficient and do a mammoth job in shorter period even with ballot papers. Can the EC explain why were the polls held in two constituencies 15 days apart in tiny Tripura? 

A matching count of VVPAT slips would not add more than a day. The EC’s reluctance is not easy to comprehend. It is necessary for credibility of poll process else it adds to the suspicion.

In 2014, poll expenses were Rs 3870 crore, as per EC. In 2019, it may cost at least 50 percent more. The first poll through ballot papers in 1952 cost Rs 10.5 crore. 

These expenses are only of the central government. It does not include state law and order machinery and many other costs, work loss to offices, banks and schools. 

The actual expenses are rising and so are the blatant, scientific, artistic rigging and buying of votes. It is not surprising when Open Secrets.org that track money trail in US politics says about $ 6.5 billion was spent in US presidential race.

There are myriad expenses. Earlier it used to be just advertisements and some event managements. Now it has expanded to media management, social media, paid and fabricated news, continuous bombarding on the voter with news or non-news or mud-slinging or unreal videos. It is not easy to calculate. In Indian context, New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies estimated the total expenses to be around Rs 50,000 crore or $ 7 billion. It was $ 5 billion in 2014, the CMS says.

Even modest calculation would put approximately another Rs 3000 to 5,000 crore rise in official EC spending. 

The poll expenses are growing. It is no more a secret that cash stated to be up to Rs 5000 a vote was doled out by some candidates in the 2018 assembly elections. 

The increased use of choppers, special flights, buses and other transportation modes by parties also raises cost. 

What is happening in West Bengal or Tripura in a blatant manner is being done in many other states with more finesse. 

It appears the note-ban has little impact on poll process. It remains as tricky as it was during the days of “vote chhapa” in Bihar or Haryana. Even the first poll was not free of it. There are narrations how muscle men were employed by influential people, then zamindars and petty royalties who were afraid of losing their clout in 1952. The culture still continues. 

There are brazen claims by some party workers that each of them in different booths pressed the EVM button 150 times this time. The truth is not easy to verify but the allegation itself is uncanny. Apparently parties muster it if we look at West Bengal, Kerala or hinterlands of Bihar, MP, Orissa, Haryana, Tamilnadu, UP or north-east it has a monetary cost too.

It is an art in Bengal practised since the days of Left Front. It was then called scientific rigging and used soft to harsh methods. Now a state party cadre has been visiting individual houses all over the state including Kolkata. They greet the voters, have tea with them and ‘politely’ withdraw saying, “Dada for five years we have taken care of you. Please do not go to the polling booth”.

It is always not that polite too. In villages they visit homes and put indelible ink on the finger of voters. They are told, “Your vote is cast. Don’t take the trouble any more”. There are many other subterfuges, including driving the voters to a picnic spot on the polling day.

The violence as in Bankura, Ghaatal and Midnapore is the result between rival cadres for dominating an area. This is important for post-poll scenario. The winner controls local businesses, real estate, security agencies and tolabazi – extortion and contributes to the party fund.

Bengal perfected that in 2018 panchayat polls. It cost 112 lives and one-third of panchayat seat was won by TMC uncontested. The rivals were forced to withdraw nomination. It extends beyond polls.  Storing and transportation of EVMs as always with ballot boxes has been tricky and suspect.

The electronic voting has its problems of secrecy and credibility. Fiddling with an electronic device even without physically touching it is possible. 

Elections are becoming expensive as the parties are receiving funds through election bonds. Declared contributions have seen reduction increasing anonymity. 

The Association for Democratic Rights has argued in the Supreme Court against such funding alleging black money donations through shell companies.

The government stated in Lok Sabha that in 2017-2018, 520 electoral bonds worth Rs 222 crore were issued, of which 511 worth Rs 221 crore redeemed. The BJP received Rs 210 crore of it. The Congress received Rs 5 crore and other parties Rs 6 crore. It does not mean the small parties are not cash rich be it TMC, BSP, SP, BJD, TDP, TRS, AIADMK, DMK or smaller parties in J&K, Kerala and elsewhere.

The EC functioning as censor board is undemocratic. Even the court has taken peculiar view on a cartoon of Bengal CM. There is nothing absurd in that or a doctor arrested for comment on a Bhopal BJP candidate. The court has been rationale in releasing the BJYM activist Priyanka Sharma but unwise in asking for an apology. Similarly, comment on a candidate is a democratic right.

Even entertaining such complaint is undemocratic. Yes, it adds to the cost again, an avoidable one.  It’s naïve to call for cut in expenses but the society has to ponder over the ramifications.

Shivaji Sarkar

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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