Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Money, money, money... how moolah gets around in Tamil Nadu polls

Colour coded tokens, Speed Post and even impromptu blackouts to facilitate distribution... officials in Tamil Nadu say they are surprised at the myriad ruses being used by political parties to distribute cash ahead of the assembly elections Wednesday.
M. Vijayakumar, district electoral officer at Perambulur, about 60 km from here, says alarm bells start ringing whenever he gets a call on his mobile from a Chennai landline number -- it is more than likely somebody trying to divert the attention of flying squads checking the distribution of cash to voters.
'All the diversionary calls originate from Chennai. However, we cannot neglect even a single tip off and act on such calls,' Vijayakumar told IANS on telephone.
He says he is astonished at the systematic and scientific manner in which cash is being distributed by political parties desperate to win the elections that pits the ruling DMK against the opposition AIADMK.
Citing a recent seizure of Rs.99,000 from a house at Arasalur in his district and the arrest of 17 people, he said: 'Along with the cash, we seized electoral rolls and three registers. For every 100 voters in a constituency, three people are assigned to distribute cash.'
In a village near Madurai, officials seized plastic tokens in three different colours denoting a particular denomination to be redeemed at a particular shop.
Direct credit to a voter's bank account, payment of utility bills, recharging of mobile phones are some of the methods by which cash in being transferred for votes, officials said.
The Election Commission has also heard of parties planning to use Speed Post service to send cash speedily to the voters.
Ambulances and even police vehicles are being used to ferry the money and escape the scrutiny of the flying squads, comprising officials from the Election Commission, income tax department and police.
Election officials across the state say they have been losing sleep for the past three weeks with their phone ringing non-stop - more so at night - giving information about location where cash or material goods are being distributed.
U. Sagayam, the district collector of Madurai, told IANS: 'We do receive tip-offs mainly to divert our attention. However, we do not know whether a tip-off is a genuine one or motivated one.'
In a big haul early this month, officials seized cash worth Rs.5.11 crore kept on the rooftop of an empty bus in Tiruchirapalli.
In some places, power is switched off at night to facilitate cash distribution. The Election Commission has now said the concerned official of the state electricity board will have explain the reason for the power cut.
'It is the phone calls that are giving me sleepless nights,' Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar told IANS.
According to Praveen Kumar, unaccounted cash worth Rs.34 crore and Rs.12.58 lakh worth of goods were seized till date and 1,253 cases of illegal gratification have been registered.
The amount seems to be only the tip of an iceberg as reports of cash being given to voters continue to come from across the state.
According to officials, most complaints are against the ruling DMK party. However, the party says it is being targeted while complaints against other parties are not being acted upon.
The cash for voters started in Tamil Nadu in an organised way in 2009 during the Thirumangalam by-polls in which the DMK party was charged with distributing cash to every household.
The voters of Thirumangalam constituency near Madurai were paid Rs.5,000 to vote for DMK party during the 2009 by-poll, reports an account in US diplomatic cables brought out by WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu newspaper.
At that time, Election Commission officials were taken completely by surprise. But this time, they say they have decided to save democracy from 'cashocracy'.

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