Money talks, walks and votes

Aditya Aamir

Close to 80 percent voting in J Jayalalithaa's RK Nagar assembly constituency augurs well for TTV Dinakaran the rebel AIADMK candidate in the bypoll held on Thursday. The byelection saw AIADMK, DMK and TV Dinakaran fight to corner the late chief minister's seat. The high voting percentage points to how bribes and voters marched together in one of the most corrupt elections held in India.
While cash changed hands a million times per day from politicians and their agents to voters over the last few weeks, it did not stop flowing even on polling day, starting right from the morning.
Around 8 in the morning, somebody tweeted “DMK candidate N. Marudhu Ganesh cast his vote at polling booth no. 134 in and said "whether it is Rs 6,000 or Rs 60,000, we are going to win; voters of RK Nagar will teach a lesson to AIADMK this time."
The district electoral officer (DEO) said that he has received complaints of bribing last (Wednesday) night and this morning. “We will be taking action against them,” he said.
The same night 15 persons were held for distributing Rs 20 as token amount with the promise of Rs 10,000 after the polls ended. Most of the complaints were against TTV Dinakaran, who was contesting as an Independent candidate. He said “people trust me, they are with me.”
“There is no logic to accusing me of bribing voters using serial number of lower denomination currencies. If voters are willing to cast their vote and then get cash from me, then it only points to their belief and confidence in me as a candidate. Their (rival) allegations only prove my strength among voters and means that I will win easily,” Dinakaran said.
RK Nagar has an electorate of 2,28,234, comprising 1,10,903 men, 1,17,232 women and 99 transgenders. Dinakaran Thursday said if there is more than 80 percent voter turnout in the bypoll, he will win with a comfortable margin.
On Wednesday a video of Jaya in hospital before she passed away was released by a rebel faction of the AIADMK – a last minute emotional appeal to voters. But bribes-for-votes are more material than emotional in Tamil Nadu.  
The pressure cooker politics of Tamil Nadu called for infusions in kind and cash every election. People do not look at bribe-for-vote as an aberration – as a blot on them or on the fair face of democracy. It does not call for tubes of Fair & Lovely!
Families discuss bribe-for-vote over dinner. For the children it is part of growing up. For young voters coming of age, it does not command shock value. People cast votes and go about their lives as if nothing wrong was done. The conscience is clear.
The by-election to the RK Nagar constituency was to take place in April but was scrapped because of charges of large-scale voter-bribing. The intervening months have not changed anything. The amount of cash distributed has only gone up. In April the going rate per vote was Rs 4,000. In December it is Rs 6,000. A 50 percent hike, much more than the official rate of inflation.
In TN elections all players, barring a minority in each segment, are equally corrupt, and culpable – the political parties, the candidates and the voters.
If the poor are by circumstances open to bribes-for-votes, the upwardly mobile lower middle class voter is not against a freebie or Rs 6,000 in cash, pocket money to spend on whatever catches the fancy. If there are four voters in the family that is four times Rs 6,000. For the poor it helps to pay expense and a rare night on the town.
News reports said the AIADMK and the TTV Dinakaran camp have denied they bribed voters. But in those same reports, voters admitted to have taken money from various political parties, and pressure cookers from the TTV camp.
The pressure cooker was the election symbol of TTV Dinakaran. Mercifully, the Election Commission did not allot him a jumbo as the symbol. At stake was Jaya’s legacy and her constituency. It was a prestige fight and both factions of the AIADMK had pulled out all stops to come out on top. Nothing was left to chance. The winner takes all and the loser can walk into the sunset.
The DMK put up a candidate and, like every party, was expecting to win. The Congress and the BJP were bit players. OPS had the BJP’s back but the TTV camp was going for broke.
RK Nagar constituency is dominated by workers and fisher-folk, for whom every extra note of Rs 2,000 helps. But this time around, cash distribution centres were located outside the constituency. A voter in the constituency had to go to these centres armed with his/her electoral and Aadhaar cards to claim his/her Rs 6,000.
Surprisingly, all this was happening under the eye of the law and it was not as if the Election Commission was blind and deaf. Everybody was in the know: democracy at its best in some ways but at its worst in others.
Coming on the heels of the tumultuous Gujarat elections, which touched new depths in electoral politics, the RK Nagar bypoll was a guaranteed low if only because it would be the most corrupt election ever fought in India.
On Thursday 75 flying squads, 21 static surveillance squads and 20 video squads kept an eye on the constituency. Counting will take place on Christmas Eve.
Opinion polls have predicted that DMK’s Maradhu Ganesh and Dinakaran of the TTV faction of the AIADMK stood a higher chance of winning. (IPA)

Wednesday, 27 December, 2017