Money power is showing its ugly might this poll season. The Election Commission of India (ECI) on Monday said it anticipates the highest ever “seizures of inducements” recorded in the 75-year history of Lok Sabha elections.

“Enforcement agencies have made a record seizure of over ₹4,650 crore in ECI’s resolute fight against money power even before the first phase of polling for the 18th Lok Sabha elections commences on Friday. This marks a sharp increase over the ₹3,475 crore seized during the entire Lok Sabha election in 2019,” the ECI said in a statement on Monday.

It’s not just “vote-for-cash”. There seem to be plenty of other inducements, too. According to the ECI, ₹395.39 crore cash was seized, and 35,829,924.75 litres of liquor amounting to ₹489.31 crore was confiscated.

Its haul also includes drugs worth ₹2,068.85 crore, precious metals (₹562.10 crore) and other items (₹1,142.49 crore). With drugs and narcotics accounting for a whopping 45 per cent of the seizures, they are under the special focus of the Commission, the ECI said.

The ECI said these seizures were the result of comprehensive planning, scaled up collaboration, unified deterrence action by various agencies, proactive citizen participation and optimal use of technology.

The Commission believes that the use of black money, over and above political financing, can disturb the level-playing field and candidates with more resources could influence the vote.

Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar, while announcing the polls last month, had underlined money power as one of the ‘4M’ challenges and said that mechanisms were in place to ensure ‘inducement free’ polls.

Highlighting instances of strict compliance, the ECI cited an example from the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu. It said the “Commission suspended the flying squad team leader for laxity in duty and selective checking of a cavalcade of a prominent leader.”

“The Commission has also taken strict action against 106 government servants who have been found assisting politicians in campaigning, thereby violating the Code of Conduct and instructions,” it said.

Cat and mouse game

If parties and candidates are relying on the power of lucre to swing votes, the ECI is ready and waiting. In an earlier press briefing, Rajiv Kumar had stressed how income tax and airport authorities were ready with a plan to inspect non-scheduled aircraft and helicopters, and border agencies were keeping a close watch on international checkposts.