RK Nagar bypoll: Cash is still king in Tamil Nadu politics as bidding war between candidates turns election into auction

Christmas has come early to RK Nagar in north Chennai. The only difference is that the Santa Claus here in attired in a white veshti. And the gifts come in the form of Rs 2,000 notes.

Between April, when the by-election to this constituency was rescinded because of rampant bribing of voters, and December, the rate for a vote has increased by 50 percent. Going by anecdotal evidence, it has gone from Rs 4,000 for a vote to Rs 6,000. Eight months ago, documents seized during an Income Tax raid on the Tamil Nadu health minister's residence showed that the ruling AIADMK planned to allegedly distribute Rs 89 crore among the two lakh voters of RK Nagar.

A Chennai local described the RK Nagar bypoll as an "auction". Indeed, the brazen manner in which money was being distributed, without fear of the law, would indicate that cash is still king in the Chennai Political League. Such is the level of voter corruption that it is an accepted fact that only the highest bidder would get the RK Nagar vote.

Supporters of All India Anna Dravida Munetra Khazhgam (AIADMK) attend an election campaign rally addressed by J. Jayalalithaa, chief minister of India's Tamil Nadu state and chief of AIADMK, in the southern Indian city of Chennai April 19, 2014. Around 815 million people have registered to vote in the world's biggest election - a number exceeding the population of Europe and a world record - and results of the mammoth exercise, which concludes on May 12, are due on May 16. REUTERS/Babu (INDIA - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)

File image of AIADMK supporters. Reuters

Grapevine and local voices all seem to suggest that both the AIADMK and rebel TTV Dinakaran are matching each other, at Rs 6,000 a vote. On record, both parties deny distributing money, instead accusing the other candidate of doing so. The DMK has tried to take the moral high ground by saying it will not purchase votes in this election. The fact that this stand is being appreciated points to the muck that everyone accepts has seeped into the electoral system. However, sceptics still believe that MK Stalin is only posturing and even the DMK is distributing money, albeit at a lesser scale than its political rivals.

Unlike earlier elections, distribution of money is reportedly not taking place inside the constituency. Those in the know point out that tiny lodges around Chennai Central railway station have emerged as points of distribution. Most of them have been taken over by cash-rich representatives of political parties. They come armed with electoral rolls of the constituency and word is spread in select streets of RK Nagar, asking voters to reach out to a particular lodge, armed with their voter ID cards and Aadhaar cards. The money is handed over only on submission of proof.

Operating from this area also helps political operators stay out of RK Nagar, which has the maximum concentration of the Election Commission's flying squads and police machinery.

Unlike the AIADMK that's banking on its 'two leaves' symbol to do the trick, Dhinakaran's challenge will be to ensure that everybody knows his poll symbol, a 'pressure cooker'. Given the effort he took in April to popularise the 'hat' symbol that he was allotted then, he now needs to ensure voters know it has changed, lest they end up casting votes for another Independent candidate who has now been allotted the 'hat' symbol this time round.

Deccan Chronicle reported that whenever Dhinakaran comes visiting, the voter needs to show the cooker as proof of the fact that the money has been received. The BJP has made a similar allegation as well. There have also been complaints alleging large orders being placed for pressure cookers with a particular shop in Chennai.

Meanwhile, DMK activists have caught men armed with money and ledger books with the AIADMK's 'twin leaves' symbol on it, and handed them over to the police. Money was also being allegedly distributed inside biryani packets in coordination with food outlets.

The joke in RK Nagar is that by the time the election gets over, every house in the constituency will get a brand new pressure cooker. Since it's not easy to distribute the kitchen utility item in a clandestine way, locals hope Dhinakaran will gift a cooker if he emerges victorious.

Unlike many other constituencies, where no one would admit to accepting money, in RK Nagar, it is taken as a democratic right.

It is a commentary on the corrupt nature of Tamil Nadu politics that people have no qualms about accepting money. The justification given is that it is not the politician's hard-earned money that he is distributing, but money looted from the public exchequer.

In fact, voters have been caught on camera complaining that they have not received money from a particular party just because they have been labelled as supporters of another party.

This is why the RK Nagar election is an issue-less election. The only talking point you would hear in the constituency is whether one has received money or not, and how much. Arun Krishnamoorthy, a psephologist who surveyed the area for a regional news channel, calls RK Nagar a large mob with a singular thought, a ghetto with a similar mindset.

Over the last one year, Tamil Nadu has seen strange political twists and turns. RK Nagar, given that it was Jayalalithaa's constituency, has the potential to dramatically change the political template of Tamil Nadu if the AIADMK candidate loses badly.

But for now, by all indications, it seems to be focused on getting the best possible price.

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Updated Date: Dec 19, 2017 18:13:36 IST

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