Several questions have been raised in the last month over the Election Commission's inability to stem the rampant corruption that ensued in the wake of the RK Nagar polls in Chennai. While politicians and parties involved in bribe-giving have finally come under the scanner, voters who took the money are yet to face the heat. A PIL in the Madras High Court however seeks to address that issue, by hauling up the poll panel for its “failure to lodge complaints against bribe-taking voters.”
The RK Nagar bye-polls that were scheduled for April 12 were cancelled following I-T raids at over 30 locations in Tamil Nadu. The raids revealed that money to the tune of Rs.89 crore had been distributed to residents of RK Nagar as bribes, ahead of the election. These allegations were levelled against the Sasikala faction of the AIADMK alone. Several videos emerged of unidentified party workers distributing money to residents as early as 4 a.m.
The PIL has been filed by Arun Natarajan, who belonged to an organisation which campaigned against corrupt poll practices. It appeared in a hearing in front of the first bench of Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice M Sundar in the Madras High Court. Citing section 171(b) of IPC which clearly holds bribe takers as well as bribe givers equally guilty of the offence of bribery, senior advocate Nalini Chidambaram argued that during the now-cancelled RK Nagar bye-lection in Tamil Nadu at least 2 lakh voters out of 2.4 lakh eligible voters were given Rs. 4,000 each.
"Some complaints spoke about door numbers where cash, sarees and household appliances were distributed, but no voter has been mentioned in the complaint," the advocate argued. "Election commission and its field teams and flying squads know the identity of the bride taking voters, still they chose not to slap bribery charges.”
“Election commission must have booked at least 10,000 bribe taking voters," she added. It was further argued that the lack of action “showed the constitutional body's utter ignorance of law.”
The Election Commission's counsel however claimed that the constitutional body was mandated to hold elections and watch only contestants' conduct during polls. "There were practical difficulties as the commission could not either identify or slap cases on 2 lakh voters. What will be the voters' response then, and will they come for voting at all?" asked Niranjan Rajagopal, who was representing the poll panel.
Nalini Chidambaram, however, said it would have sent a strong message to errant voters who were under impression that taking money to cast votes was not an offence at all.