Experts are divided on whether the government’s decision to demonetise Rs 500 and 1,000 currency notes will curb corruption in elections.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) has, time and again, raised concerns over the use of money to bribe voters ahead of polls. So much so that the Commission, in an unprecedented step, was forced to cancel elections to two Tamil Nadu Assembly seats, Aravakurichi and Thanjavur, on this ground this year. The poll panel then wrote to the Law Ministry seeking permanent legal powers to countermand polls in case there is credible evidence of use of black money.
Nearly Rs 3,000 million in unaccounted cash was seized by the Commission during the 2014 election, even though the victorious MPs reported spending just 58 per cen of the allotted limit, on average. Cash seizure across all Assembly elections since 2014 have been at an all-time high. Bihar, for instance, registered highest seizure of cash (Rs 19 crore) during assembly polls in 2015. In Tamil Nadu, the figure crossed Rs 100 crore.
“Over the last few years, ever since the EC started coming down hard on black money in polls, candidates and parties have started bribing voters early, much before the model code of conduct comes into effect. I think this decision has been announced at the right time, just ahead of five state elections. Parties and candidates, who were going to resort to bribery, would not know what they should do with that money now,” former Chief Election Commissioner SY Quraishi told The Indian Express. “My only fear is that a parallel money laundering industry will develop. The government must guard against that.”
ECI officials, however, were guarded in their reaction to the decision. “This may impact the use of black money in elections in the long run. I am not too sure about the approaching polls in five states (Punjab, Manipur, Goa, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh). The government has given everyone a 50-day window to turn in their Rs 500 and 1,000 currency notes to the banks. Voters who have received bribe worth Rs 1000 or Rs 2,000 can easily approach the banks and turn this money in for fresh notes,” said a senior EC officials, who did not wish to be identified.
Professor Jagdeep Chokar, co-founder of Association for Democratic Reforms, said it was too early to tell if the decision will affect bribery during elections. “Black money in polls is not independent of or unrelated to black money in the economy. Elections do not generate black money, but it is an avenue to spend it. If the demonitisation of Rs 500 and 1000 notes has a significant impact on generation of black money in the economy then obviously there will be less available for spending during elections. But we will have to see how this plays out.”