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Battleground Tamil Nadu: 50% poll spends flout EC code, here's how it happens

The Election Commission is worried about the growing influence of cash in campaigning — from mobilizing crowds for rallies to payouts to voters.

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Last Updated: Apr 19, 2016, 12.22 PM IST
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The Election Commission is worried about the growing influence of cash in campaigning — from mobilizing crowds for rallies to payouts to voters.
The Election Commission is worried about the growing influence of cash in campaigning — from mobilizing crowds for rallies to payouts to voters.
CHENNAI: The Election Commission is worried about the growing influence of cash in campaigning — from mobilizing crowds for rallies to payouts to voters.

Days ago, when RBI governor Raghuram Rajan flagged the spike in cash circulation during polls, he grabbed the attention of CEC Nasim Zaidi. The CEC was set to ask RBI for inputs so the matter could be followed up on. The EC in TN tied up with Facebook for a campaign: My Vote Is Not For Sale. Will the efforts impact voters?

Poll expenditure is in cash, leaving no trail for the EC to chase it. Nearly 50% of expenses are for activities that qualify as code violation.

About 30% is spent hiring vehicles, aircraft and payment to cadre, roughly 20% is used for advertising. A senior TN official estimated that up to Rs 9,000 crore is spent during a state election. Parties have already dispatched battle money to various destinations, but handout to voters will happen days before polling. Going by experience, the EC may not be able to stop it.

Netas too are blasé. In June 2013, late BJP neta Gopinath Munde conceded that he spent Rs 8 crore on his 2009 LS campaign. (In 2014, the upper limit was revised to Rs 70 lakh). He added: "I hope no EC official is in the audience."

Munde won in 2014. In the run-up to the 2009 LS polls, when the EC estimated that the elections could cost the EC, government and parties Rs 5,000 crore, research centre CMS estimated the cost would be double that for parties and netas. Analyst Raveenthiran Doraisamy feels barely 5% voters are influenced by bribes: "Many , even after taking money, vote as per their choice."

But the practice has only grown. "The dis ease of lavish election spend is spreading," former CEC T S Krishnamurthy said. In `The Miracle of Democracy: India's Amazing Journey ,' he says, "Elections are essential but not enough; it is possible to have elections without sustainable democracy. If the election is flawed, it is worse than not having an election at all, for it opens the floodgates for social injustice and authoritarianism."

There's no cap on expenditure par ties incur and much of the individual spend is shown as party expenditure.

Former CEC N Gopalaswami says the EC has mooted a CAG audit of party income and expenditure. Over half the candidates quote 50% of ROUND permitted spend when submitting NADU accounts after elections.

"It's not possible to sift through hours of footage to crosscheck. EC scrutinizes the returns only if there are specific complaints," he says. When election tracking NGO Association for Democratic Reforms reviewed affidavits of 6,753 candidates ahead of the 2009 LS polls, it found only four had said they spent beyond the limit, says Jagdeep Chokkar.

"Only 30 candidates said they spent more than 90% of the permitted amount. The majority said they spent only 45%-55% of the limit. Still, the parties clamour to raise the spending limit."
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