It’s money or the lack of it that has become the buzzword in the south-western coastal state Goa that goes to poll early next month.
Money plays an important role in elections across democracies, but it matters the most when it comes to Goa. With corruption and bribery accepted as a rule rather than an exception in the Goan society, politicians, from village councils to parliamentary polls, depend heavily on money to bribe their way to victory. Neither are any objections raised nor are any questions asked since all political parties since times immemorial have been using money to entice voters.
However, the situation has changed drastically with Goa slowly but surely gearing up to elect its new state legislative assembly on 4 February. Demonetisation and the resultant cash crunch along with a strict vigil launched by the poll panel have come as a bolt from the blue for Goa's politicians who are not sure how to reach out to their voters and impress them.
Goa, as anywhere else in India, is still reeling under the pressure of demonetisation, particularly because the new notes of Rs 500 denomination are yet to get into circulation in the coastal state (due to a continued cap on maximum withdrawals from accounts and through ATMs). And, to make matters worse, Kunal, Goa’s chief electoral officer, has taken rather seriously the Rs 20 lakh ceiling imposed by the autonomous Election Commission of India for all aspirants in the state.
Faced with a lack of liquidity, ticket aspirants of various parties have asked their workers to mobilise money and seek donation even before all political parties, barring the fledgeling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), could declare their list of candidates for the 40-member assembly.
The polls panel’s Wednesday announcement that all candidates in the fray would have to open election-specific bank accounts in which all donations above Rs 20,000 would have to be deposited through cheque or draft and all payments for the same amount must be made through cheques have made the ticket hopefuls jittery.
The poll panel has already constituted two flying squads comprising three teams for each of the 40 assembly segments for 24x7 monitoring and strict adherence to the model code of conduct. A dedicated helpline has been installed as well for complaints with a reaction time of five minutes to reach the spot, which can put even the police and fire brigade to shame.
The poll panel has also asked the local police to keep a close eye on vendors like those supplying milk, newspapers, vegetables and other sundry items to households since they were used in the past by innovative politicians to send bribe money to voters in the last two days before the scheduled polling date.
The poll panel has also instructed the local excise department to closely monitor liquor outlets and manufacturers to ensure that voters are deprived of alcohol as a mode of bribe. The excise department, in return, has set up flying squads at taluka (subdivision) levels to monitor unauthorised parties.
Alcohol wholesalers have been directed to handover their daily stock and sale list along with CCTV recordings of those taking deliveries on a daily basis.
In addition, all alcohol manufacturing units have been instructed to handover daily production, stock and supply records to detect an abnormality in production and supply, while all sick bottling units have been sealed to prevent illegal production.
Blame it on the crackdown on money and alcohol if the voting percentage in Goa declines from the highly impressive 81.73 percent recorded in 2012. Politicians, cutting across party lines, admit that it would not be easy for them to lure uncommitted voters or fence-sitters to vote for them as such voters, traditionally used to accept cash and alcohol bottles, may prefer to sit at home than queue up at polling booths.
Faced with strict guidelines laid down by the Election Commission and acute shortage of money, there is a general apprehension that various mafias, especially the mining mafia, the casino mafia, the real-estate mafia and the drug mafia, may come up to their rescue and dole out money, which does not come without set preconditions to which individuals and their parties have to agree beforehand.
“The thumb rule here is that you have to spend over Rs 1 crore if you want to emerge victorious in the assembly elections. How am I going to arrange so much money and even if I do, will I be able to evade the prying eyes of the poll observers and flying squads?” wondered a ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state lawmaker from North Goa, seeking anonymity, and concluding that it may not be a risk worth taking since it would lead to harsh consequences including disqualification.
The saving grace for many politicians in Goa is the one-month window that the Election Commission has provided between the day election schedules were announced (4 January) and the day of voting (4 February). Less campaign time automatically results in fewer expenses.
It will be interesting, however, to watch how the campaigning unfolds and is conducted over the crucial 12 days under the changed circumstances which are likely to pick pace only after 21 January, which is the last date for withdrawal of nominations.
The good news, many feel, is that the lack of money power will shift the focus to development where the incumbent MLAs of the ruling BJP and opposition would have to claim votes based on their work over the last five years. Sitting MLAs and new nominees would now be required to break down the manifestoes of their respective parties to booth levels, and offer promising action plans that may, in an ultimate reckoning, prove a much needed boon in disguise, especially since despite corruption being a way of life in Goa, the yearning to eliminate it is gaining ground with each passing election.
Published Date: Jan 07, 2017 09:05 AM | Updated Date: Jan 07, 2017 09:17 AM