Drugs and cash: What's in supply this election

Payel Majumdar Upreti | Updated on April 12, 2019

Cash, drugs, gold and liquor — the bribery department is in full swing this election season

On April 1, income tax officials raided the warehouse of a political worker in Tamil Nadu and found ₹11 crore in sacks and cartons, packed and organised ward-wise for distribution among voters. On March 28, off the coast of Porbandar in Gujarat, the Indian Coast Guard and Marine Task Force seized a 100-kg consignment of heroin from nine Iranians, following a tip-off from the Anti-Terrorism Squad. The Iranians, who were nabbed after their boat sank during the chase, confessed that the contraband had come from a Pakistani national.

Cash and local liquor have long been used to lure voters. Of late, drugs are being dangled before the voter, too. Or so indicates the Election Commission of India (ECI) in its report on seizures from around the country. The value of goods seized till April 10 was close to ₹2,000 crore. But the single largest seizure was that of drugs worth ₹100 crore.

The ECI publishes a daily report of the value of assets confiscated by it across the country. The biggest offender this season is Gujarat, where ₹513 crore worth of goods and cash have been seized. Other states are not much better: Tamil Nadu is a close second at ₹413 crore, followed by Andhra Pradesh (₹196 crore), Punjab (₹169 crore) and Uttar Pradesh (₹162 crore).

Drugs surpassed all other seized goods in value. Countrywide, ₹725 crore worth of drugs were seized, with Gujarat leading and Punjab a close second.

Of the cash seized in this election, ₹172 crore came from Tamil Nadu, followed by Andhra Pradesh (₹118 crore).

Gold and other precious metals are also commonly used to bribe voters. In Andhra Pradesh, around ₹33 crore worth of gold and other precious metals, and ₹19 crore worth of other freebies were seized.

“This election covers a population of approximately 850 million voters. It is the biggest election that the ECI has had to conduct, and it poses a challenge to the institution,” former chief election commissioner Naveen Chawla says, while declining to comment on the seizure reports.

The ECI has assigned general observers, static and mobile surveillance teams, and expenditure observers to track the money being pumped in to buy votes. According to the ECI, income tax officers monitor each district. Air intelligence units have been set up at airports, as also 2,106 flying squads and 702 surveillance teams.

For the first time, at least one all-woman polling booth is being set up in every assembly constituency to keep a check on, among other things, corruption. Two expenditure officers have been assigned in every parliamentary constituency to ensure candidates do not overstep the expenditure limit while the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is in place. The ECI has also launched CVIGIL, an Android app where voters can log in and submit geo-tagged videos as proof of violations of the MCC. The ECI has received 1,650 complaints so far, and disposed of 1,622 cases, election commissioner Ashok Lavasa said at a press conference in Chennai recently. Lavasa said, “There are now 67,720 polling stations fitted with VVPAT machines, an increase of 1,946 such stations from last general elections. The borders are being manned more strictly since the MCC began.”

Uday Gelli, president of the western chapter of the Rotary Wing Society of India, and a representative of the civilian chopper industry, said monitoring is tight at the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) this year.

“All information on whom we are transporting, the political party they belong to as well as the cargo on board is passed on to the local government authorities, from whom it is conveyed to the local election officer. Pilots are personally required to check the cargo coming on board, and report to the DGCA. Information includes the charges levied, and money spent by the political parties,” he tells BLink.

Meanwhile, the ECI has publicly expressed its displeasure over the income tax raids conducted by the Central Board of Direct Taxes and revenue department against government officials linked to Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath. The ECI wrote to the revenue secretary that the actions of enforcement agencies needed to be neutral and not politically motivated. The revenue department, in turn, urged the ECI to “advise its own officials to act against suspected use of illicit money during polls.”

According to a report by the Association for Democratic Reforms, a non-governmental organisation that works for electoral reforms, 53 per cent of the funding for five national parties — including the Congress and the BJP — was from unknown sources. Around 80 per cent of the BJP’s income — or ₹553 crore — is unaccounted for. The report studied the tax returns and donation reports filed with the ECI.

Does that mean the Indian voter is not going to be bribed anymore? A recent survey by political scientist Jennifer Bussell of the Univerity of California, Berkeley, USA, says that 90 per cent of the politicians interviewed said they felt pressured to hand out cash and other bribes in India. As the poet said, candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.


Published on April 12, 2019

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