Days after the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) party snatched a victory from the BJP in a closely contested bypoll in the state’s Munugode constituency, Hyderabad-based independent governance watchdog Forum for Good Governance (FGG) has written to the Election Commission of India (ECI) alleging large-scale electoral irregularities and has sought a thorough inquiry so that the “Munugode byelection does not become a trendsetter ahead of general elections next year”.
FGG secretary M Padmanabha Reddy wrote in the letter that roughly Rs 627 crore was spent in the bypoll by the main contenders when cash paid to induce voters, money spent on liquor, expenditure on rallies and meetings, and that incurred by ministers and MLAs are calculated based on the voting figures.
According to the FGG, the two main parties – TRS and BJP – “started purchasing local leaders” even before the election notification. “While liquor was flooding the roads of Munugode and currency notes were falling like a hail storm, the Returning Officer or a large number of observers closed their eyes,” the letter said.
Further, it said, in some villages, people sat on the roads with placards that read “no money no vote” up to 2 pm and it was only after their demand was met by political parties that polling began around 3 pm. “There is enough evidence to show in TV channels how people demanded money and the political parties obliged,” it added.
Reddy’s letter went on to mention that people sat in protest as they got much less money for their vote compared to those in neighbouring villages. It alleged that political parties spent Rs 500 per person to ensure crowds during rallies and meetings. In the letter, Reddy also alleged that voters took as much as Rs 9,000 for a vote from the two main parties.
There are allegations that state government employees also took sides in the election and in the middle of the election process, the returning officer (RO) and assistant returning officer (ARO) were shifted and suspended, it recalled. Demanding a thorough inquiry into these allegations, the forum said cases must be booked against “people who demand and accepted money” for casting their vote. “In a year or so, there will be Assembly elections in Telangana, and Munugode should be a trendsetter,” the letter concluded.
On November 6, when the bypoll result was declared, the TRS candidate won with a majority of over 10,300 votes over the BJP candidate, while the Congress candidate lost her deposit. The bypoll was necessitated by the resignation of MLA Komatireddy Raj Gopal Reddy who quit the Congress to join the BJP and contested on the saffron party’s ticket.