Underground economics of votes may not be effective but remains pervasive on eve of polling
Ashish Mehta | December 17, 2012
With the second and final phase of elections in Gujarat on today, let us focus on the hush-hush talk that found no mention in candidates’ speeches or pamphlets: the voting-eve distribution of cash and/or liquor.
After the neighbouring district of Narmada went to polls on December 13, people of Achhala were intrigued by and discussed reports coming from Narmada about the exchange of “gifts” the night before.
Incidentally, according to figures released by the election commission, Narmada district recorded the highest voting of 82.21 percent in the first phase.
“On the previous night, the (party) candidate got 25 truckloads of liquor cleared from the checkposts. He called up the PSI (police sub-inspector) and gave him Rs 10 lakh — none of the trucks were caught and all the bottles were distributed in the villages the same night. You need connections like that to win elections,” N told H (names withheld to protect identity), who has been helping a non-Congress, non-BJP candidate during campaigning.
“I have heard he distributed Rs 10,000 to the main party campaigner in each village,” N said.
Comparing the figure with that of 2007 elections, he said, “Last time, the (party) gave Rs 6,500 to our village and then, at the last moment, the (other party) came and gave Rs 10,000.”
Explaining the modus operandi, H said the money usually goes to the main campaigner for his services, as well as to oversee distribution of liquor. This campaigner then may have to make his own arrangements to procure liquor, if it is not supplied by the boss. The amount is besides the money the chief campaigner in the village would receive to arrange food for everyone at the campaign ‘night meetings’, or plying his vehicle for the campaign and so on — the ‘actual expenses’, so to speak.
After alcohol, cash distribution to villagers is the second priority, though not much cash is required in the villages. “People would be happy even if they get Rs 10 each,” one Achhala resident told me.
Considering that the Chhota Udepur constituency has 200-odd villages, apart from a few semi-urban pockets, the total budget would have come to approximately Rs 2 crore — not a small amount — but H and N said that not all villages get equal benefits: when a village is known to be the supporter of the rival, the candidate would usually give it a miss.
For a non-BJP, non-Congress candidate backed by a smaller party, or an independent contestant, the total campaign budget, according to H, would come to around Rs 25-30 lakh, a small fraction of which may be shown in accounts. Such a candidate is expected to put his own savings with some help from friends — and of course the party, if there is one backing him/her.
The smaller candidates, too, distribute a token amount to as many people as they can reach out to. “Voters expect it from you,” said H. However, whether all this spending delivers any bang or not is an open question. I asked around in Achhala about it, and the answers were varied.
Ramanbhai Kagda maintained that all the talk about cash and liquor distribution was just a myth. “No such things happen. What you have heard are only rumours,” he said.
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