Chennai: A staggering sum of Rs 49 crore ($11 million) seized during raids ahead of the Tamil Nadu elections still lies unclaimed. A pointer to the goings-on in the shadowy world of money and freebies peculiar to the state, say some, while others believe this is a pan-India malaise.
Huge amounts of unaccounted money were seized by a flying squad consisting of officials of the Election Commission and the income tax department prior to the April 13 Assembly polls in Tamil Nadu. According to officials, a total of Rs 54 crore was seized during the raids, of which only Rs 5 crore was claimed back. There were no claimants for the remaining Rs 49 crore.
Both the ruling DMK-led front and the opposition AIADMK-led alliance had offered a series of freebies, ranging from free rice to free laptops, in the battle to lure voters. The open display of money power in the elections led to dismay across the country. However, several people, including politicians, said the cash-for-vote phenomenon was not special to Tamil Nadu.
According to former state chief electoral Officer Naresh Gupta, cash for votes is a major problem in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and in the union territory of Puducherry.
K Srinivasan, a retired banker, said it was unfair to put the blame on Tamil Nadu alone.
"How can you say Tamil Nadu shamed India? Cash-for-vote is not new to the country. We have seen MPs and MLAs being induced to vote for or against the government," Srinivasan said.
"If at all blame should be laid, then it should be on the political parties - national and regional - who played on the vulnerabilities of the poor," Srinivasan said.
DMDK leader Panruti S Ramachandran asserted: "Bribing the voters is not new to India and Tamil Nadu. But the scale got changed during the Thirumangalam by-elections when voters got huge money."
The DMDK, led by actor-politician Vijayakant, is part of the AIADMK-led alliance.
According to a US diplomatic cable brought out by WikiLeaks and published by The Hindu newspaper, the DMK wooed the voters of Thirumangalam near Madurai with an offer of Rs 5,000 to vote for the party during the 2009 by-election. At that time, M.K. Alagiri, son of the party chief and Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, had even predicted more or less accurately the margin of victory for the DMK candidate.
Old-timers recall that the founder of the DMK CN Annadurai used to extoll people not to accept even Rs 5 as an inducement.
Now, according to Election Commission officials, a majority of the cases for carrying unaccounted money lodged in the run-up to last week`s elections were against DMK officials.
But the blame game continues.
DMK MP TKS Elangovan said: "It was the AIADMK under Jayalalithaa that started the money game. The party promised building of temples in villages in exchange for vote. The AIADMK bribed voters by hiding gold nose ring inside laddu and distributed to voters.
Karti Chidambaram, Congress leader and son of union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, expressed his frustration.
"At a time when people elsewhere in the world are giving up their lives to secure voting rights, the people of Tamil Nadu should ponder whether they should squander their privilege by accepting cash from candidates fighting an election," Chidambaram said.
While politicians debate the issue, Saroja, a domestic help in the city, wonders what is wrong if politicians share some of the spoils with the people.
"Be it Ram or Ravan who rules the land, our condition will not change. Neither are the politicians going to end their corruption. At least during elections they are sharing some of their spoils with the people," Saroja said.
According to former election official Gupta, the election manifesto of political parties can also be brought under the model code of conduct to stop the offers of freebies. Former chief election commissioner TN Seshan had called electoral corruption to the root of all political corruption in the country.