Money, booze and tandoori chicken: How Karnataka’s Assembly hopefuls are wooing voters

In poll-bound-Karnataka, constituents give detailed accounts of how their would-be representatives are trying to win them over.
Money, booze and tandoori chicken: How Karnataka’s Assembly hopefuls are wooing voters
Money, booze and tandoori chicken: How Karnataka’s Assembly hopefuls are wooing voters
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From organising luxury buses to ply natives living in neighbouring states to delivering juicy tandoori chicken to voters’ homes, in a candid conversation with this reporter, respondents across some districts in poll-bound-Karnataka gave detailed accounts of how their would-be representatives are trying to woo them.

In pre-polls Karnataka, mere cash handouts do not simply seem to be good enough. A combination of Hana, Henda and Kanda (money, alcohol and meat in local parlance), or organising religious excursions to Mantralayam, Dharmasthala, or a trip to Bengaluru seem to have a better effect on the candidates’ prospects.

“What’s there in cash? Almost every other candidate gives some or the other handout while visiting our homes for the campaign. I and my family of seven get money from all the parties, but it’s barely enough for a day,” 37-year-old Raju, a resident of Yadgir, says.

At the venue, it becomes the party appointed contractor’s responsibility to systematically distribute party logo branded caps and 1 litre water bottles to the attendees in the scorching hot Karnataka summer. Apart from this, a pre-ordered parcel of hot lunch or dinner is picked up from a hotel by the bus driver on the return journey, away from the vigilant eyes of the Election Commission manning the rally grounds.

“It is only during elections we feel that democracy is working and the system gives importance to common people like us. Once elected, we know the representatives will not visit us, but instead will be hobnobbing in Bengaluru for ministerial berths or other posts,” Pramila*, a 47-year-old tailor and mother of two from Belagavi, adds.

During the first week of May, a political party leader from Yadgir has booked 25 luxury buses from Pune to Gurmitkal (Yadgir). Owing to shortage of employment, a large number of people, mostly men, have temporarily migrated to Pune, where they are employed in semi-skilled sectors.

“Yes, a party leader’s agent has booked the bus. The passengers are mostly skilled, semi-skilled labourers. A contractor will pay them at Pune when boarding the bus, we are told to pick them up on May 12,” Mahesh*, a booking agent, says.

“Although we don’t know how they will vote, we have noted that these contractors are experts in keeping the natives in good humour. They touch them emotionally after reuniting the workers with their families over a free luxury ride. The gullible, semi-literate or illiterate people in turn vote in favour of a party or candidate which these contractors dictate. This has been going on for years and frankly the ‘model’ seems to be working,” Mahesh adds.

Upon return to Pune (beyond ECI Karnataka jurisdictional purview) on May 13, the passengers will once again receive a sum from the contractor.

At Bidar, Bhaskar, a local correspondent who reports on the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, says that as early as mid January they learnt of political aspirants advancing cash to restaurants, alcohol retailers, contractors and turning the sum into a legitimate business proposition.

“It’s common knowledge. The aspirants or parties don’t handle the transactions directly. They have non-politically affiliated agents or contractors who disburse the stipulated amounts at their direction. These are long term players, people value their word-of-mouth even if it means they have to return their dues post elections,” Bhaskar says.

For every restriction placed by the Election Commission for free and fair elections, the candidates and political parties seem to have found an alternative.

“While the political contractors do not save much money, the parties or the candidates, on coming to power, duly reward these agents by giving them tender contracts for Cement Concrete (CC) roads,” Mahendra, a small restaurant owner in Chikmagalur, says.

At Hassan, recently an aspirant of a party created a ruckus at the district party office after his name did not crop up both in the first and the second list.

“To be fair, this businessman and wannabe politician took a lot of pain to fund local Kabbadi matches and pay petty shop bills of his constituents. When a few families did not attend his night-out tandoori party, being a bit conservative, he asked his people deliver the tandoori dishes to their homes. So, though illegal, the aspirant’s frustration is justified,” a core committee member of the party at Hassan claims.

In Dharwad Central, two political heavyweights had thoroughly invested in distributing sarees, mixer grinders, induction cookstoves and pressure cookers to the same constituents till early March. However, now that the party has named one contender over the other, the dejected candidate has asked for appropriate compensation from the selected candidate as a guarantee to not spoil his political aspirations.

Meanwhile, the hopes of Keshava, a political contractor from Koppal, to buy a second-hand car were dashed after the bank refused him an additional loan.

“A party gave me funds to purchase a car for myself for election activities. I have promised them 4,000 votes under my care. I had even sealed the deal with the seller. Although I provided 20% of the amount, the private non-banking financial company refused to give the remaining amount as my CIBIL score was low,” he says dejectedly.

Although not facing ATM cash crunch horror stories in comparison to their north Karnataka counterparts, bankers in Dakshina Kannada are facing consumer backlash due to a dearth of Rs 100 notes at their outlets.

“It’s a regular problem during elections; the political parties want to get people from rural areas for their city rallies, but don’t want to spend Rs 200, Rs 500 or Rs 2,000. So they have stocked their buffers with most of the Rs 100 notes for handouts. So ATMs these days generally dispense other currencies, except Rs 100,” a banker with a private bank says.

When asked if it didn’t prick his conscience to take money to vote for any political party, one of the respondents at Chamarajnagar seemed to feel humiliated and responded in agitatedly. “Why do you think I should feel guilty? Is it your father’s money I am asking? No, it belongs to the government. In the name of taxes, they have tricked me into giving it to them and I know I will never get to see any development. These leaders are not doing a favour by giving us the money, instead of getting in five years we are getting it all at once, it’s my rightful claim. Ultimately, I will vote for whom we want, so what’s the problem?” the 68-year-old Raghu said, while adding that he didn’t mean to offend this reporter. 

* Name changed

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