For just Rs 4000, they were ready to leave their conscience at home as they set out to the polling booths.

The sale of democracy Why arent we questioning the RK Nagar voter for taking cash for voteImage for representation.
Voices Opinion Monday, April 10, 2017 - 18:23

An incriminating document was doing the rounds two days ago: There were names of Tamil Nadu Ministers and what appeared to a division of the RK Nagar constituency into several parts. There was an amount allocated for ‘85%’ of the population in each of those parts, and just a glance would tell you the amount for each person: Rs 4000.

While the AIADMK (Amma) party has denied that this document was created by them, and every single party has claimed that they did not bribe voters in RK Nagar ahead of the now-cancelled bye-elections, more than enough evidence has emerged that the voters were indeed bribed.

Read: Ground report: As notes flow, cash for votes is an open secret in RK Nagar ahead of bye-poll

The politicians, who tried to buy votes instead of convincing the people that they were worthy of being their representatives, are being condemned in no uncertain terms - as they should be. The so called leaders of the people tried to buy democracy, as they have done in the past too.

Sadly, the people of RK Nagar were willing sellers. For just Rs 4000, they were ready to leave their conscience at home as they set out to the polling booths.

The vicious cycle of electoral fraud

There is a cap on election spending by each candidate/party for each election. In Tamil Nadu, a candidate can spend upto Rs 70 lakh for the Lok Sabha elections, and upto Rs 28 lakh for an Assembly poll.

Clearly though, these rules exist only on paper. In RK Nagar alone, just one party allegedly spent around Rs 90 crore to bribe the voters. While it’s important to question why the Election Commission did not curb this, and debate whether the EC should have the powers to take action against candidates who indulge in electoral fraud, it’s also important to ask the people of the constituency about why they were complicit in this crime.

In every election in Tamil Nadu in the last few years, there has been talk of how money has been distributed on the ground. It could be Rs 1000 a few years ago, it increased to Rs 2000 the next time around. Alcohol is distributed, so is biriyani. Phones are recharged, goodies are given, pawn brokers are paid off.

And people have accepted these bribes without question. For parties and people, distribution of money is business as usual - so much so, that in many places, voters are now reportedly demanding cash from their candidates.

At all other times, the taxpayers - and we’re all taxpayers, direct or indirect - demand accountability for the money we pay the government.

But why don’t we demand accountability when bribes are paid during elections? Why don’t we realise that this money, too, is coming from the state exchequer’s coffers?

It’s not about who you finally vote for

So are these people who accept this cash - 85% of the population, if we’re to believe the document that did the rounds - voting for the people they take money from? Are they accepting money from one party, or from multiple parties? Are they in fact just taking this money because it’s on offer, but voting for whoever they believe is the best candidate, irrespective of who paid them?

We don’t know the answer to that question. But even if we did, would it matter?

If the relationship between the voter and the representative is that of buyer and seller, why should an MLA or an MP, a councillor, mayor, or Panchayat president, listen to the grievances of the constituent after the election is won?

When elected representatives go in droves to a resort and shut themselves in, or refuse to meet their constituents, when a road caves in and the government gives excuses, when the law and order in the state crumbles and the government turns a blind eye, do voters who already got something for their vote - hard cash - have a right to complain that their representative is not working for them?

As the old, boring, and very real cliche goes - it takes two to tango. And the people who were complicit in the sale of democracy in RK Nagar - and every other constituency in the past - should take a hard look in the mirror.

(Note: Views expressed are the author's own.)

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