Money muscles its way in as parties woo voters with freebies in Karnataka

Recent seizures of cash and articles in Karnataka ran into an eye-popping Rs 93 cr—freebie season had set in long before the model code of conduct kicked in.

Published: 31st March 2023 12:48 AM  |   Last Updated: 31st March 2023 12:48 AM   |  A+A-

Rajiv Kumar, Chief Election Commissioner.

Rajiv Kumar, Chief Election Commissioner. (Photo | Parveen Negi, EPS)

While announcing the election dates for Karnataka, Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar made
two pertinent points of concern: urban voter apathy and rampant money power. Recent seizures of cash
and articles in Karnataka ran into an eye-popping Rs 93 cr—freebie season had set in long before the model code of conduct kicked in. The amount is almost Rs 5 cr more than the Rs 88 cr seized during the 2019 general elections and is a testament to the desperation of political parties in Karnataka. Weeks before the election calendar’s announcement, politicians went to work, distributing freebies to an unsuspecting public. Some were cloaked as community or festive largesse. From ticket aspirants to established leaders, all are guilty of this common but lowdown trick of the trade, often targeted at women of economically backward sections. The ‘gifts’ reflect this, coming in the form of cookers, mixers, stoves, saris and silverware. Some suave city MLAs didn’t miss the chance, giving away festival hampers of sweets and saris via tokens to their elite electorate.

This flow of generosity has not gone unnoticed, with alert officials raiding godowns and seizing articles and foodgrains in bulk. Enforcement agencies also seized cash, liquor and narcotics, the latter meant explicitly for young voters. While the police made the biggest haul of over Rs 50 cr, the Enforcement Directorate seized properties worth Rs 26.21 cr, the Excise department Rs 1.29 cr, the Commercial Taxes department Rs 5.75 cr, and so on. All parties are equally guilty of this brazen attempt to buy votes; no doubt, cash and liquor will flow as voting day nears.

The CEC’s concern about using money to induce voters is an admission that our elections could be far from free and fair. While muscle power is not a big menace now, money plays a major role, and the election authorities have many plans to crack down on errant politicians. The number of surveillance teams, flying squads, observers and teams to monitor expenditure-sensitive constituencies has been beefed up. Citizens can use the cVigil app to complain to the EC about illegalities, and checkposts have been set up along the state borders. If, despite these measures, politicians manage to play fast and loose with the EC rules, it will only mean that the ballot loses its value, and the honest voter will be discouraged from participating in this democratic ritual.


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