Election Commission fighting a losing battle against ‘money power’

The EC’s admission that it failed to curb money power and malpractices vitiating the electoral process in Chennai raises questions on its ability to resist vested interests elsewhere in the country

Photo by PTI
Photo by PTI

NH Political Bureau

If the Election Commission (EC) cannot conduct the byelection for the Ramakrishna Nagar Assembly constituency in Chennai, can it be trusted with the conduct of a far more elaborate general elections? And, if it admits its failure to curb bribing of voters in a relatively small urban segment in Chennai, how much credence should one give to its claim of conducting free and fair elections in the country as a whole?

Even as criticism of an “inefficient” Election Commission mounts after its decision to rescind the RK Nagar byelection, there are uncomfortable questions being raised.

  • The decision was prompted by Income Tax raids which, it is claimed, netted documents that show that ₹89 crore were distributed to various ministers to bribe and mobilise voters. But the Election Commission itself claims to have seized only ₹32 lakh in cash.
  • While it is suspected that the IT raids were conducted at the behest of the Centre, the EC is being accused of turning a blind eye to constituencies where a lot more money was seized during elections in the past.
  • As many as 51 flying squads were deployed by the EC, 21 of them static and each with seven members including a magistrate and a videographer.
  • The Election Commission also claims to have deployed 70 ‘mobile parties’ on two wheelers in the RK Nagar constituency
  • CCTV was apparently installed at all major streets and junctions
  • Surveillance was done at airports, railway stations, bus stands etc
  • As many as 12 Income Tax officers were drafted to check usual suspects.
  • Arrangements were made to receive complaints of bribery and malpractices on mobile through text messages
  • And an unprecedented number of observers, micro observers and expenditure observers were deployed in the constituency
  • Arrangements were also made for webcasting in all 256 polling stations.

And, despite such elaborate arrangements, the Election Commission admitted its failure to prevent political parties – mainly the ruling faction of the AIADMK – from resorting to “innovative” ways to bribe voters.

Distribution of prepaid mobile phone recharge coupons, milk tokens, newspaper subscriptions and money transferred through mobile wallets were some of the ways employed to influence voters, the EC said while deploring political parties for subverting the democratic process.

But the Commission finds itself at the receiving end of criticism. A report in The Times of India on Tuesday quoted people complaining that the Election Commission delayed taking action against complaints. The report quoted VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan saying, “Initial reports of money distribution did not get due attention from the ill-equipped Commission, which allowed crores of rupees to be distributed before resorting to action. EC is a toothless body. It is good at only setting up booths, preparing electoral rolls and deploying EVMs (electronic voting machines).”

It also quoted former CBI Director RK Raghavan questioning the deployment of central paramilitary forces.

But the moot question is whether the Election Commission is losing the battle against money and malpractices.

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