Karnataka polls: Fake or not, cash-for-votes likely to be biggest problem facing Election Commission

The recent seizure of fake notes worth Rs 7 crore in Karnataka's Belgavi has highlighted, once again, just how big a role cash plays in elections in India. The fact that the Rs 7 crore fake notes were seized just days after the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) seized fake notes valued over Rs 10 lakh in Vishakhapatnam from a train en route Karnataka, should be sufficient to send Election Commission's flying squads on a high alert.

Trading cash-for-votes, however, is not new. And whether it's fake or real currency notes, the history of elections in India would suggest that the Election Commission faces a monumental task is not just making arrangements for polls, but also keeping a close eye on the miscreants bribing voters to ensure free and fair elections.

A classic recent case was the RK Nagar Assembly bypoll, which was cancelled by the Election Commission after the Income Tax Department searched properties and offices belonging to Tamil Nadu health minister C Vijayabaskar.

 Karnataka polls: Fake or not, cash-for-votes likely to be biggest problem facing Election Commission

Representational image. Reuters.

According to reports, searches on premises of an associate of Vijayabaskar by sleuths of the Income Tax Investigation wing revealed routing of Rs 89 crore for "distribution to voters" in RK Nagar Assembly constituency. But the seizure failed to stop cash-for-votes during the re-election in December 2017. As Firstpost earlier reported, an estimated sum of Rs 120 crore is said to have been distributed among 2.2 lakh voters.

Even during last year's Gujarat Assembly elections —the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — over one million litres of alcohol worth Rs 23.68 crore was seized by 10 December, and Rs 1.71 crore in cash and gold and jewellery worth over Rs 8 crore were seized by the Election Commission-appointed surveillance and expenditure monitoring teams by the first week of December.

Gujarat went to polls in a phased manner between 9-14 December 2017, and the actual amounts were even higher. According to IANS, the DRI recovered demonetised notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 to the tune of Rs 49 crore.

The Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre had demonetised old notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 in November 2016 with an aim to stop corrupt practices. But despite the note ban being announced just four months ago, during the run-up to polls in five state Assemblies of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Himachal Pradesh in early 2017, seizures of cash, liquor and drugs went through the roofs.

According to PTI reports, till 27 February, Uttar Pradesh has seen a record seizure of Rs 115.70 crore cash, 20.29 lakh barrels of liquor worth Rs 57.69 crore, and narcotics weighing 2,725 kg worth Rs 7.91 crore by the Election Commission-appointed surveillance teams. The state went to polls in a phased manner between 11 February to 9 March 2017.

The comparative figures for the detection and seizure of these illegal inducements in Uttar Pradesh during the 2012 Assembly polls stood at Rs 36.29 crore cash and over 3,073 litres of liquor worth Rs 6.61 lakh.

In Uttarakhand, Rs 3.40 crore suspected cash, 1.01 lakh litres liquor worth Rs 3.10 crore and over 81 kilos of drugs worth Rs 37.88 lakh were seized. These were more than double of what was witnessed in the previous Assembly election.

In Punjab, where the Congress won under Captain Amarinder Singh, the cash seizure stood at Rs 58.02 crore, five times what was witnessed in the previous polls. Whereas, 12.43 lakh litres of liquor worth Rs 13.36 crore were seized as compared to over 3,2978 litres worth Rs 2.59 crore during the 2012 Assembly polls.

Goa, where BJP formed the government under former defence minister Manohar Parrikar, too, witnessed Rs 2.24 crore cash being seized at the end of one-phase polls on 4 February.

At a time when cash was (and still is) in short supply, that political parties could manage such huge amounts of cash, shows that when it comes to cash-for-votes, the Indian election system has no clear solution.

The Karnataka polls are still three weeks away and, if recent elections are an example, only more seizures are to be expected.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Apr 19, 2018 19:47:07 IST