COIMBATORE: While the entire country is appalled at the scale of inducement in RK Nagar, the art of voter bribery was practiced in Tamil Nadu as far back as over six decades ago.
Old times recall an incident in 1954 when the legendary Indian National Congress (INC) leader K Kamaraj had just become chief minister and sought to take the Gudiyatham bypoll route to the Assembly. Kamaraj had succeeded C Rajagopalachari, who stepped down from the chief minister post after huge outrage over his new education policy.
Kamaraj had full support from Periyar E V Ramasamy, a towering personality who led the rationalist movement in the State. So, he did not have to face competition from the then DMK chief C N Annadurai at Gudiyatham.
But the then CPI leadership fielded V K Kothandaraman who gave him a tough fight. The Congress grew anxious and allegedly bribed people to secure their votes, claim old timers.
Recalling the incident, M Duraisingam, then DMK youth wing member working from Gudiyatham (now CPM), says, “The bribe then was Rs 1 per voter and a coupon for upma and coffee (redeemable at any food stall or hotel). Post-elections, the CPI composed a jingle that went something like: I’ll give you Rs 1 and upma, dear woman who vote for the double-bull symbol (otha roobai thaaren, upma kapiyum thaaren, rettai kaalai chinnatha paathu ottu potta penne). They recited the jingle at their party meeting, criticising Kamaraj’s victory.”
While it is businessmen who sponsor politicians these days, it was bus operators who played that role then, recalls Duraisingam.
Bypolls then was a fight between muscle and money power, comments veteran CPI leader R Nallakannu, another leader who recalls the Gudiyatham by-elections. “Political parties did not bother putting forth their ideologies or welfare schemes for the public. They simply gave money to the economically downtrodden,” he explains.
Political commentator Tamizharuvi Maniyan, who had worked with the Congress earlier, says that the party continued the note-for-vote practice into the 1962 Assembly election.
“Annadurai was defeated in Kancheepuram by Congress candidate S V Natesa Mudaliar by 9,190 votes, after the party bribed voters with the then new `5 currency note. People were asked to place the note over the picture of Lord Perumal and promise to vote for the Congress,” he recalls.
While it’s nobody’s case that 1954 could justify what happened in RK Nagar, it is interesting to learn that people even then had a weakness for easy money. Senior politician Pazha Nedumaran, a close associate of Kamaraj, says, “Kamaraj was a man of simplicity.
In 1954, he didn’t even want his party cadre to campaign for his victory. His hard work paved the way for it. We cannot compare the RK Nagar bypolls with Kamaraj.”He, however, refused to comment about bribing during the 1962 elections.