New Delhi: Even as a Lok Sabha committee probes the cash for votes allegations in the 22 July trust vote that gave a new lease of life to the ruling Congress-led Union government, a new study shows that, in the last decade, at least one-fifth of the country’s electorate was paid cash for their votes.
The numbers rise among the rural poor, who are relatively more vulnerable to such cash inducements.
According to the study, conducted by the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), a not-for-profit research firm, almost one in two voters in Karnataka, where assembly elections were held in May, had taken money for voting or not voting.
However, the share of voters is higher among the voters in the so-called below the poverty line, or BPL, category: 73% in Karnataka while the national average is 37%.
“It is the mother of all corruptions. This is the beginning of the vicious circle of corruption in our society today. The voter who took money to elect his representative does not realize how much more bribe he has to pay annually to avail what is entitled for him,” says N. Bhaskar Rao, chairman of CMS.
“The bribe money varies from state to state. It may be Rs100-150 (a voter) in some states and it can go up to Rs1,000 in some constituencies,” said Rao, adding that the CMS study refers to only cash bribes, not the value of liquor or other material inducements being doled out during election campaigns.
The national survey sampled 18,000 voters in 18 states and 23,000 voters spread over all the Indian states.
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Explaining the methodology for the study, Rao said CMS used a perception, experience and estimation method to arrive at its conclusions. “Not many will admit they have been bribed to cast their vote,” he said. “But, in confidence, they would let you know if they knew someone who has taken money.”
CMS spotted this trend, which Rao says is worsening every year, while analysing recent voting patterns in various states.
The Centre is finalizing its larger study on the “patterns of bribing” in elections.
While money has always played a role in Indian elections of all sizes and shapes, the increasingly brazen use of wealth to garner votes is a major concern to the Election Commission, the autonomous body that conducts Indian elections and a body that has generally failed to curb the use of non-overt use of monetary inducements in elections.
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In an article in The Hindu on 31 May, chief election commissioner N. Gopalaswami disclosed that the total value of cash, liquor and other non-cash objects used for bribes that were seized across Karnataka during the run-up to the May polls was around Rs45.5 crore.
He maintained that he had never come across such a precedent in the four years he spent on the poll panel.
Election Commission officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comments on the CMS findings about how much cash was being paid for votes.
Admitting that money played a major role in Karnataka election, B.K. Hariprasad, a Rajya Sabha MP and a Congress party general secretary, said: “It is sad for the democracy. Democracy will lose its essence of genuine choice.” The Congress party lost to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the elections.
According to some political party leaders, one candidate in any Lok Sabha constituency of an Indian metro city often spends up to Rs2 crore in an election, while it is about Rs1 crore in a semi-urban constituency and Rs60-80 lakh in rural constituencies.
The numbers, however, sharply vary from constituency to constituency and various election periods.
“It is less in rural constituencies of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh,” says a BJP member of Parliament who didn’t want to be named.
Several politicians claimed they have no choice but to induce voters.
“Many voters are also looking up to candidates who spend money for them. They consider a rich candidate before a poor party worker, even if the latter is a genuine candidate. Poverty could be one reason for it,” said a senior Congress leader, who did not want to be identified.
Prakash Javadekar, spokesperson for the BJP, says he would like to believe that voters mostly go by their “heart” in big elections.
“It is true that money is being paid in various forms and it is worrisome,” he said. “In civic body elections, where a small number of voters matter, the candidate tends to buy the voters.”
Javadekar claims this, however, “is not feasible in Lok Sabha elections. Our own experience is that when there is a battle between dil or dollar (heart and money), heart always wins.”
According to the CMS study, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh, which is due to go to elections later this year, follow Karnataka in the list of the states where the voters have been bribed with cash to cast their votes. While 34% of voters were paid cash in Tamil Nadu, it was 33% in Madhya Pradesh and 31% in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar. In a somewhat surprising estimate, only 29% of BPL voters seem to be bribed with cash payments in Madhya Pradesh, as opposed to 94% in Andhra Pradesh and 23% in Bihar.
About 18% of BPL voters were bribed in West Bengal, while it was 8% in Kerala.