Guest Post by RAGHAVAN SRINIVASAN
The Election Commission proved itself to be totally unequal to the task of curbing money power in the recent state assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. State funding of the electoral process holds a lot of promise in ensuring a level playing field for all participants.
If one were to add up the cash-for-votes given to voters during the recent TN assembly elections, as reported in the press, then the cost per vote would easily be the highest among all Indian States. Money paid to cadres during election campaigns, fees paid to advertising agencies, and direct cash transfers to voters – all provide a temporary euphoria in the economy. Everyone is happy since apparently there is no one who is left out. But the money for these huge expenditures have to come from somewhere and that is invariably, the people’s pockets.
The massive monitoring force deployed by the Election Commission of India (ECI) consisting of a battalion of general observers, police observers, expenditure observers, assistant expenditure observers, video surveillance teams, and others seized more than Rs. 105 crores of cash. Though a considerable sum, this was just the tip of the iceberg. Surely the observers would have recorded considerable evidence on other surreptitious methods of transferring cash-for-votes. In response to petitions against this blatant violation of electoral rules, the Commission first postponed elections in Aravakurichi and Thanjavur constituencies and issued notices to two political parties on freebies in their election manifestos. The ECI did not exercise the plenary powers conferred to it under the Constitution to countermand/cancel these elections at that point.
However, in a first in India’s electoral history, the Election Commission decided on May 28 to rescind the notification and conduct polls afresh “in due course of time” to these two Tamil Nadu Assembly seats following evidence of use of money to influence voters. The Election Commission said it took the decision after considering reports of observers, special teams of central observers, report of the special team of observers of Aravakurichi and Thanjavur constituencies and representations of contesting candidates.
This is unfortunately, only the tip of the iceberg.