Hyderabad: Two more days of campaigning are left in Telangana — two more days to woo voters with speeches and promises in public and with money and liquor in private.
The Election Commission has capped a candidate's campaign spending at Rs 28 lakh and also audits candidates' account statements — a mandatory requirement under its rules — after polling. The poll panel has even enforced an item-wise cap — Re 1 for a packet of water, Rs 5 for tea, Rs 120 for chicken biryani, Rs 3,500 for 400-watt loudspeakers, Rs 1,100 for hiring a car per day, to name a few. Also, as per its rules, candidates have to maintain a day-to-day expense statement that is monitored.
These measures enforced by the Election Commission to check campaign spending during the Assembly polls have led to the seizure of some Rs 104 crore so far in Telangana, according to media reports.
Candidates use creative methods to get around the Election Commission rules and escape the vigilance of the police and other officials tasked with checking the use of unaccounted cash in campaigning. This includes using the birthday of a poor worker's son as a campaign platform, or getting local residents to perform lavish poojas, organise social get-togethers and functions that the party "sponsors". These events, attended mostly by local residents and people from surrounding villages who are brought to the location by bus, then become a platform for candidates and party workers to boast about their party's performance and make promises, such as financial assistance, for the future.
Telugu daily Sakshi reported two such incidents — one in Shivaru in Hyderabad, where a worker spent Rs 2 lakh for his son's birthday, and another in Karimnagar, where a teacher spent more than Rs 4 lakh on a pooja. Political leaders and local residents attended both in large numbers, with the latter returning home with gifts.
Monitoring effective only in urban areas
While the Election Commission monitoring the expenditure of candidates is more effective in urban centres like Hyderabad, distributing money and liquor to woo voters and paying them to campaign is common in rural and semi-urban constituencies.
"Daily-wage labourers and others who do not have regular employment are paid around Rs 200 to attend political rallies," said Raju, a college attendant in Bodhan.
S Kumara Swamy, a resident of Shakkar colony in Bodhan, said: "Recently, a Congress candidate spent almost Rs 50,000 for a meeting. He threw a party providing free food to all people in the area. But there is no one to report the event to the Election Commission with proof."
However, B Ganga Shankar, Congress MPP (Mandal Parishad President) from Bodhan, insists that all that party workers and candidates do is "door-to-door campaigning to tell people about the party's policies mentioned in the manifesto and how they help poor farmers and others".
And it does help that many of the candidates are personally wealthy.
"The Congress candidate here, Sudharshan Reddy, is very rich compared to us," said Mohammed Hamaz, Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) party worker and father of Shakil Aamir, the current Bodhan MLA who is contesting from the constituency again. "Money and liquor might play a ,role but we are trying our best to reach out to people through the schemes that our chief minister, K Chandrashekar Rao, has implemented."
Yet, amid high-spending candidates and campaigns, there are a handful of independents spending the little money they can afford on campaigning. "My total campaign budget is just Rs 2 lakh," said R Anil Kumar, the independent candidate contesting from Malkajgiri constituency of Medchal Malkajgiri. "I am planning my campaign with the help of relatives, friends and social media. If I win, it will be great, but even if I lose, I would not lose much."
Bonus season in Bodhan
The town of Bodhan is famous for its now defunct 80-year-old Nizam sugar factory. Here, the sky is now dotted with over 20 air balloons displaying the TRS, BJP and Congress party symbols, each costing Rs 18,000, including the price of the gas cylinder needed to keep the balloons afloat.
Campaign vehicles with loudspeakers continuously roam the streets, broadcasting party songs and speeches. While TRS' mobile broadcasts focus on the schemes and programmes implemented by KCR, the BJP plays songs criticising KCR, and the Congress vehicles play songs in praise of its candidate.
On 30 November, the usually-empty site of the BR Ambedkar's statue in Bodhan was crowded with people there to attend a rally by Congress candidate Sudharshan Reddy. But the crowd really there to catch a glimpse of actress Vijayashanti, the Congress' star campaigner. As the campaign vehicles arrived, people erupted on seeing Vijayashanti. No one really paid attention once the speeches began. Only a few were listening, but the speeches were not audible to most of the crowd.
"All these people have come here to support the Congress, whose victory is inevitable," said an optimistic party worker busy recording the event on his mobile.
V Saidu, a roadside cobbler, said: "Women who work as daily-wage labourers attend rallies like these for money and are also drafted by party workers to canvas the streets. I see the same women attending a TRS rally one day and a Congress one on the next.
The reaction of women was straightforward: "Why should we lose an opportunity to make some money?"
Another Congress worker, Ajaz Hussain, claimed: "Shakil Aamir, the sitting TRS MLA, spent around Rs 1 crore on a public meeting in Bodhan that Chief Minister KCR attended."
At the same time, Shakil Aamir has people like Shaikh Rahim, a TRS worker who does canvassing in his pink cycle covered with TRS party flags. “I cycle to all the villages in Bodhan constituency, telling people to vote for TRS. They pay me Rs 200 to Rs 300 per day and provide three meals," he said.
The author is a freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com
Updated Date: Dec 04, 2018 18:22 PM