E-2024: Cursed by money, toxic talk and intoxicants

The agencies recovered an average of Rs 100 crore per day in the form of black money, which was supposed to have been effaced because of demonetisation.
E-2024: Cursed by money, toxic talk and intoxicants
Express illustration | Sourav Roy

Religion is the opium of the people, Karl Marx wrote in 1843. It is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions, he added. That was at a time opium was highly valued for its medicinal purposes. What would he say now to opium and its modern variants being used as an electoral tool to keep the tyrannised creatures in control? For that, he would have to come to India, where he believed the ruin and devastation caused by British colonial rule was a terrible but necessary price for “the only social revolution ever heard of in Asia”.

What he would observe instead is total electoral inflation in India, where wooing the voters with intoxicants of various kinds has become the most effective way of ensuring victory. A fortnight ago, the Election Commission claimed that various government agencies had seized over Rs 9,000 crore in the form of cash, precious stones, drugs and liquor between March and the fifth phase of the general election. Over 53 crore litres of liquor was caught before it reached the targeted tipplers. The agencies recovered an average of Rs 100 crore per day in the form of black money, which was supposed to have been effaced because of demonetisation. By the end of the seventh phase, the amount seized is likely to cross a monumental Rs 10,000 crore, as against just Rs 3,500 crore during 2019 and barely Rs 1,000 crore during 2014. It would be the highest since the first Lok Sabha election in 1951-52.

If democracy is the greatest festival of them all, then political parties are also the biggest celebrants. EC data shows the cash recovered from all the states is just Rs 850 crore. But the value of drugs seized is a whopping Rs 4,000 crore. Liquor worth over Rs 800 crore was also seized by the law enforcement agencies. It means almost Rs 60 out of every Rs 100 confiscated by the EC was meant for bribing, drugging and intoxicating voters. If the official norm of the investigating institutions is to be believed, then cash and other goods worth Rs 80,000 crore escaped the agencies’ eagle eyes. Statistics do tell many stories. And the devil definitely lies in the details provided by the EC. What are mere numbers for the EC tell many stories about the economic, social and cultural identity of the states.

Here are some examples.

* The four southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have the maximum shekalim power. Of the total cash of Rs 850 crore seized by the EC, these states contributed over Rs 377 crore. Telangana, with Rs 114. 56-crore seizures, tops the list of all states. Even in terms for sequestrating precious metals, the South stands taller than the rest. These states contributed Rs 441 crore worth of precious metals including gold, out of a total value of Rs 1,260 crore that was confiscated by various agencies during the elections. But the promoters of politics went a step forward to intoxicate prospective voters. They were caught with liquor worth Rs 337 crore from these states. Tamil Nadu’s political touts were detained peddling drugs worth Rs 330 crore. The total value of the intoxicants recovered from all over the country was Rs 3,958.85 crore.

* Gujarat, Punjab and Bihar reveal an astonishing story. Gujarat and Bihar are officially dry states in which the sale of liquor and other drugs is totally prohibited. In Gujarat, the agencies impounded just Rs 8.61 crore in cash. However, the value of the liquor seized was almost Rs 30 crore. And the market value of the drugs seized was about Rs 1,200 crore, almost 30 percent of the total market price of the drugs (worth Rs 4,000 crore) that was impounded all over the country. Gujarat was also the one of the top five states from where precious metals worth Rs 128.50 crore were recovered. But Bihar turned out to be poor in terms of cash because EC sleuths found just Rs 14 crore. But its liquor mafia was caught with consignments worth Rs 48 crore.

The recovery of a huge amount of drugs and liquor from Punjab also bolstered the perception that the state is in the grip of a powerful drug mafia which also participated in the elections. The EC and other agencies seized drugs whose market value was over Rs 650 crore. But it got just Rs 15.50 crore in cash from agri-rich Punjab’s political market.

* Maharashtra and Delhi set the benchmark politically and financially. And the EC and other authorities knew it well as they kept an eye on the movement of money and material from these two states soon after the election schedule was announced. Since then, they have captured precious metals worth over Rs 300 crore, which is about 25 percent of the total value of the gold and other expensive metals seized from all of the country. Surprisingly, the maximum recovery of expensive metals—worth Rs 195 crore—was done from Delhi, followed by Rs 188 crore from Maharashtra. An amount of Rs 90.79 crore in cash was retained from Delhi’s middlemen and over Rs 75 crore from Maharashtra. Revenue intelligence organisations and the EC monitored the jewellers very closely as the demand for gold and other jewellery items grew immensely. Even the value of banned drugs recovered from Delhi was over Rs 350 crore.

* West Bengal, Assam, Odisha and Jharkhand presented a slightly different story. While an enormous amount of cash was recovered from politicians before the elections, the EC couldn’t track the huge pile of cash illegally stashed during the elections. It found just Rs 31 crore in West Bengal, Rs 17 crore from Odisha, Rs 45.53 crore from Jharkhand, and a mere Rs 6.75 crore from Assam. However, liquor worth Rs 90 crore was confiscated in West Bengal, Rs 35 crore from Odisha and drugs worth Rs 56 crore from Jharkhand. West Bengal was also among the top 10 states from where precious metals worth Rs 60 crore were seized.

* Ironically, all the other north Indian states such as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and J&K seem to be saintly because they accounted for less than 10 percent of the total unaccounted cash and expensive metals impounded. While in Himachal they got Rs 50 lakh, it was less than a crore in most of the small states in the Northeast. Even in Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 Lok Sabha members, the investigative agencies could track only Rs 35 crore in cash.

For voters, the choice is between moolah, toxic talk and intoxicants. It is now up to them to show more maturity than those who are seeking their favour. Democratic verdicts are now influenced more by the boodle than by the book. And black megabucks are back as the flavour of the election season.

prabhu chawla

prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com

Follow him on X @PrabhuChawla

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