From chasing violators indulging in illegal, multi-crore cash transactions, to addressing concerns about the violation of the Model Code of Conduct, which is now being levelled by functionaries across parties, the Election Commission has its hands full this polling season.
One of the issues that has become emblematic of the election season in Tamil Nadu is the scourge of ‘cash for votes’. As per a seizure report made available by the EC in mid-March this year, Tamil Nadu is the top state, in terms of seizures of cash (worth Rs 50.86 cr), and precious metals (worth Rs 61.04 cr), which adds up to a total of Rs 127 cr. Trailing behind TN in seizure value, are the states of West Bengal (Rs 112.59 cr), Assam (Rs 63 cr), Kerala (Rs 21.77 cr), and finally the union territory of Puducherry (Rs 5.72 cr). Since then, cash seizures carried out in Chennai, Tirupur and Dharapuram have unearthed unaccounted cash to the tune of Rs 16 cr in the state.
Also, the seizure of Rs 1 crore, which was found stuffed in a sack in Tiruchy, has become a major cause of embarrassment for the administration. The reason is the conflicting viewpoints offered about this seizure, with a few officials maintaining that the sack was found on the roadside, while others claimed to have seized it from a car. It may be recalled that India’s Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Sunil Arora had visited TN in February to discuss poll preparedness with state and central officials. He had then expressed his disappointment about the performance of the state excise department and the special DG (Enforcement) on cash seizure before polls. Arora categorically pointed to a cash seizure of Rs 2 crore, wherein all the cases registered were against “the foot soldiers, who were getting caught, and not the big fish.”
The CEC had expressed his confidence back then saying there shall be no Vellores and RK Nagars, this time around, referring to the two constituencies where the elections to the Lok Sabha seats in 2019 and the by-election to the Assembly constituency in 2018 were respectively rescinded. Political observers have lamented how unreliable testimonies of officials involved in poll-policing have often led to the failure of conviction and the re-entry of candidates who had run afoul of the law previously. Seizures aside, the EC has also been approached for unsavoury remarks by candidates, and the use of intimidating language during poll campaigns.
But it’s not just in Tamil Nadu that the EC is finding itself burning the midnight oil on account of poll code conduct violations. Last Friday, the EC ordered a repoll at a polling station in Ratabari Assembly constituency in the south of Assam in the wake of an EVM being seized from a BJP candidate’s wife’s car. And last week, the Telugu Desam Party announced its boycotting of the Mandal and Zilla Parishad Territorial Committee (MPTC/ZPTC) elections, for the first time in 39 years, due to lack of trust in the State Election Commission.
What is required is the creation of an enabling ecosystem that allows the EC to function in the absence of political pressure and bureaucratic bottlenecks.