Can Money & Machines influence the Tamil Nadu election outcome?

Posted on May 09, 2011 by G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, under Elections

Untitled Document
Can Money & Machines influence the Tamil Nadu election outcome?
By G.V.L.Narasimha Rao

The poll published a fortnight ago has predicted an emphatic victory for the AIADMK combine in the Tamil Nadu assembly polls.

Tamil Nadu elections have been confounding pollsters of late. In 2006assembly elections, most pollsters predicted that Jayalalithaa led AIADMK would get another term in office. Similarly, in 2009 polls, the DMK-Congress combine swept polls surprising poll observers. The reasons for the confounding poll outcome weren’t psephological. They are the result of widespread occurrence of poll malpractices.

N. Gopalaswami, a former Chief Election Commissioner and a Tamilian himself says that Tamil Nadu ranks high in poll irregularities owing to use of money power. “The irregularities that are characteristic of Tamil Nadu are sustained through money power. Votes are bought and sold with planned precision,” says Gopalaswami.

“Bribe and Loot” Model

The ‘Thirumangalam’ by-election in January 2009 has acquired such notoriety that it was featured prominently in Wikileaks India cables. As an American diplomat noted in his dispatches, “...Azhagiri has added money to his arsenal and is using it to a degree previously unseen in Tamil Nadu…in the January (2009) assembly by-election held in Thirumangalam near Madurai, which he managed for the DMK. This race was marked by unprecedented bribes to voters.” It has since been widely talked about as the successful ‘Thirumangalam model’.

M. Patturajan, the former Mayor of Madurai and a confidant of Azhagiri, told the U.S. representative, “it is no secret at all, Azhagiri paid 5,000 rupees per voter in Thirumangalam. " S. Kannan, a mid-level Congress party official in Madurai told them " the 5,000 rupees per voter in Thirumangalam changed everything.
" What had been an AIADMK stronghold till then was flipped overnight into the DMK camp."

There were widespread reports of votes being purchased at Rs. 2000 per vote in 2009 Lok Sabha polls also. Not that parties like the AIADMK didn’t bribe voters too. But can parties out of power match the offering of those in power, not only of cash bribes but of freebies financed out of the exchequer?

The DMK seems to have perfected a “bribe and loot” model of “election economics” whereby voters are lured with freebies from government coffers coupled with cash bribes, and the governmental power so acquired is used to brazenly loot the public exchequer. Now the AIADMK’s election manifesto too is full of promises of freebies, seeking to outdo the ruling party in this respect.

Look at the bribe statistics. There are 4.59 crore voters eligible to vote in May assembly polls in Tamil Nadu. If a party were to offer every voter in the state a bribe of Rs. 2000, it would work out to an outlay of Rs. 9,180 crore, just 5% of the scale of the Spectrum scam.

What if most people who receive the bribe money don’t change vote in favour of the party giving the bribe? It doesn’t really matter. You only need a small three percent swing to convert a big defeat into a triumphant win.

Is it possible to distribute such large sums of cash? There are logistical problems and leakages in distributing money in rural areas, and moreover the Election Commission is doing its bit to curb the menace. In the present assembly elections, Rs. 34 crore has already been seized by election officials. “That is only the tip of the iceberg,” Chief election Commissioner S.Y. Quraishi told media recently.

But how effective the Election Commission would be in preventing planned large scale bribing of voters in Tamil Nadu polls is anybody’s guess. Parties have evolved several creative methods of reaching bribe money to voters.

Unfortunately, voters have also got used to be being paid for exercising their voting choice. What proof do you need for this than refusal by some voters to vote in the LensOnNews opinion poll because they were offered no money?

The fear of EVMs

While the Election Commission is fully alive to the abuse of money power in polls, it has a “god like” faith in the Electronic Voting Machines. I have documented serious lacunae in the EVMs and had authored a book on the issue titled “Democracy at Risk” last year.

While studying the problems of EVMs all over the country, the case of Tamil Nadu in 2009 general elections came across as one of the worst elections ever conducted using electronic voting machines. Voters in hundreds of polling stations across Tamil Nadu experienced serious problems on the polling day, May 13, 2009 due to “malfunctioning” electronic voting machines.

The most common problems faced by the voters were as follows.

  When the voters pressed the button to vote for one party, the light flashed on another.
Light did not flash after vote was ‘cast’ in the EVM
EVM did not produce beep sound raising suspicions
Buttons got stuck and did not function
EVM gave continuous non-stop beep
The voting machine did not make a beep sound after casting the vote
Multiple beeps were produced by the EVMs, but ignored by officials

The above list is only illustrative and not exhaustive.

In several polling stations, voting machines were replaced midway during polling. In many others, voters’ complaints were ignored and the polling was held even when the problem persisted.

In the absence of a proper ‘post election technical audit’, one does not know whether these problems are only technical glitches or the result of election fraud perpetrated (or attempted) by criminals and/or colluding officials on unsuspecting voters and poll contestants in order to ‘steal’ elections.

With traditional rigging of elections becoming passé, new sophisticated electronic rigging has become a real possibility. With ECI in denial over the vulnerability of EVMs, parties, candidates and voters at large have to maintain a watchful eye over their functioning.

Only if money and machines do not play havoc in Tamil Nadu assembly polls as they have in the recent past can one truly expect a free and fair election. Is that too much to ask for?

G.V.L. Narasimha Rao is a well known poll analyst.



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 G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, -G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, 45, is a leading election analyst and a political commentator.


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