Even as Vellore parliament elections have been cancelled in Tamil Nadu after a haul of around Rs 12 crore from the premises of a DMK associate and as Income Tax teams return empty-handed after raids on the residence of Kanimozhi, the DMK Thoothukudi parliamentary candidate, questions arise on the extent and role of cash in Tamil Nadu politics.
According to Election Commission’s progressive seizure report till April 16, Tamil Nadu leads with cash seizures of Rs 204 crore and Andhra Pradesh comes second with Rs 134 crore. Maharashtra comes a poor third with just around Rs 42 crore. This is of the total cash seizures of Rs 683 crore across the country. It is not only in cash seizures that Tamil Nadu leads. Other precious metals like gold and silver seized in Tamil Nadu come to around Rs 294 crore. Putting cash and metals together, the total seizures in the state come to Rs 510 crore.
Such cancellation of polls is not new to Tamil Nadu. Just over a couple of years ago, EC cancelled the bypolls in RK Nagar due to a similar reason. It is a different matter that TTV Dhinakaran later won the polls with a thumping majority.
Though the distribution of liquor, biryani and small amounts of cash for party workers and cadres to keep them enthused, is a hoary practice in Indian elections, the large scale distribution of cash, at least in Tamil Nadu, seems to have started off with the Thirumangalam bypoll in January 2009. During the bye-election in Madurai district, where the DMK won by more than 40,000 votes, then DMK leader and Karunanidhi’s son Azhagiri was in charge of the campaign and was not leaving any stone unturned to win the election.
It was called the Thirumangalam Formula, wherein cash was distributed in a packet along with your daily newspaper, rather than the feverish and unseemly attempts to distribute money in the dead of the night. The voters too were enthused and the election witnessed a record polling of 89.89 per cent.
In a cable sent by the US consulate to the US State Department in Washington DC; later made public by Wikileaks, the Thirumangalam Formula was discussed in detail, and the monies distributed were also mentioned. Thirumangalam set a high barrier which political parties in Tamil Nadu are now trying to keep up to. The cost per vote is said to have reached a high of Rs 5000 then.
While the Vellore Parliament constituency election was cancelled after a haul of around Rs 12 crore, people in the know say it is a pittance, and such amounts will not make any dent to the campaigning whatsoever.
In Tamil Nadu, there is no palpable public anger at the amounts being seized. Voters have become immune to such large amounts of money being bandied about. At times, they have come to the conclusion that since anyway the political system is so corrupt, elections are the only time that some kind of redistribution is taking place, and they are fine with it. In some places, such redistribution is eagerly awaited for, and communities are abuzz with rumours and expectations about the timing of the cash distribution.
It has come to such a pass that voters are getting angry if money is not distributed.
Political sources say that earlier, it was possible for rival parties in the locality to oppose the distribution of cash. Now such disruptions have become so unpopular at the local level, that no party tries to oppose the distribution of cash by rivals. They let it pass. They only counter it by giving whatever they could, and not by disrupting others.
In Tamil Nadu, such cash expectations are also directed at certain parties at the local level. While voters expect the DMK and AIADMK to part with some of their resources, such expectations are not very visible when it comes to parties like the Congress, BJP or the Communist parties; the CPI and CPI(M).
While the leading parties in the state have substantial subject matter expertise in distributing cash, the race is on how one can deliver it better. It has become a question of logistics, not of democracy.
Tamil Nadu is considered a politically aware and literate state, what with the long history of the ‘social justice’ movements and struggles for caste emancipation and empowerment. However, the Dravidian parties had been hijacked either by families or by individuals; so much so that the earlier ‘democratisation’ impulses have been trampled upon by family rule and personal avarice. This has led to extreme cynicism among the voters and we have the most politically-literate electorate thirsting for cash to cast their vote.