Following the demise of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, the election commission (EC) decided to hold bypolls to the RK Nagar constituency in April 2017. However, two days before the polls, the EC cancelled it following various reports that the TTV Dhinakaran-led AIADMK (Amma) indulged in large-scale bribing of voters. Reports suggested that close to Rs. 100 crore was spent by various parties to influence voters in the assembly constituency. When the bypolls were finally held on December 21, 2017, Dhinakaran won with a thumping majority, surpassing Jayalalithaa’s 2016 lead of 39,545 votes.
Fast forward to 2019, and income tax and EC raids across Tamil Nadu have seized more than Rs. 550 crore worth of unaccounted money, jewels and other items. To put that sum in perspective — the amount seized in Tamil Nadu is more than what the Centre has allocated for Khelo India (Rs. 520 crore), the national programme for development of sports.
If one were to compare the money seized during the RK Nagar bypolls with the current haul, it would not be wrong to extrapolate that Rs. 550 crore is a tip of the iceberg.
The RK Nagar anecdote is important for two reasons: One, the current raids and unearthing of black money during elections is not a one-off incident, and; two, corruption and black money need not necessarily dampen the chances of a candidate.
Political parties in Tamil Nadu will find a special mention when techniques of influencing voters is discussed. The two main regional parties, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) perfected and popularised the practise of announcing populist schemes in party manifestos and using public funds to implement these poll promises. From grinders to mixies, from cellphones to laptops, from cycles to mopeds, from goats to gold…the list is long.
Pushing the envelope, the AIADMK government decided to distribute Rs. 1,000 to every ration card holder in the state before the festival of Pongal in January this year. Thankfully the Madras High Court struck it down observing that “…It is public money not party funds.”
Another dubious distinction for Tamil Nadu is that the first time the EC cancelled polls to a seat was in the state, during the May 2016 assembly elections. The polls to the Aravakurichi and Thanjavur assembly constituencies were cancelled following reports of large-scale bribing of voters.
The disturbing fact is that corruption and the enticement of voters, either through cash or other benefits, is not looked down upon by a majority of people. It is such a prevalent malice that in 2014 the Tamil Nadu Election Commission got actor Kamal Haasan to campaign in a video requesting voters to not “…sell your future and self-respect for a pittance.”
The recent raids across Tamil Nadu, which curiously focused mostly on DMK candidates, must be seen in this light. These raids lead to one conclusion: that the amount of money the DMK has spent on the polls is much more than the amount permitted by the EC. However, this does not mean that it is the only party that indulges in such dubious practices.
Going by experiences from past election results, it can be said that corruption and IT raids do not considerably affect the chances of a candidate or political party — and that’s a poor reflection on the world largest democracy.