The stock market is exactly not an indicator of realities. The sensex is rising even as new issues seem to hit the economy. Does this mean that the sensex at 39,000 is not impacted by the political situation? Are the issues of nationalism and patriotic dispensation able to cover up critical situations that are affecting the people?
The answer is not easy. But ‘none of the above’ (NOTA) ballot option has caused a new concern. Political parties have been telling voters not to press the button. Even non-political RSS chief Mohan Bhagvat gave a call to “select a candidate, not reject any”.
The Election Commission (EC) figures say that the highest 2.5 per cent Nota were registered in Chhattisgarh and 0.5 per cent in Mizoram during 2018 State polls. It affected prospects in 22 constituencies in Madhya Pradesh; 15 each in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Five States — Chhattisgarh, MP, Rajasthan, Mizoram and Telangana — registered 8.44 lakh Nota votes in 2018.
In elections held between 2013 and 2017, Nota secured a total of 1.33 core votes, according to an analysis of Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR). Indeed, it is becoming a game changer much to the chagrin of political parties.
Even the ensuing General elections are having a large number of NOTA. It has become a problem for managing the polls. Parties are spending huge sums to manage votes. But a section of the people are playing spoilsport. Many of the Nota voters are firm cadres of some parties. They may be dissatisfied with the candidate or in most cases the party itself or for the non-fulfillment of the promises they made.
It emerges and has been noticed in parts of western UP, across the spectrum, that unsuitable persons were put up in some constituencies. Voters ended up pressing the Nota button in disgust.
It is more so as polls are no more a matter of free choice. During the late 2018 Assembly, it was said, that some parties opened money bags to “help” voters. In some constituencies, it was said, each vote cost Rs 5,000 or more in cash.
The EC cancelled polling in Vellore Lok Sabha seat in Tamil Nadu after detecting “systematic design to influence voters through large-scale distribution of cash. It would severely jeopardize the conduct of free and fair election”. Nirvachan Sadan wrote to President Kovind on April 16 and got his assent. Recall, in 2016, Assembly polls in two constituencies i.e. Thanjavur and Aravakurichi, again in Tamil Nadu were cancelled for the same reason.
Despite demonetisation, which was supposed to have eliminated black money, the seizure of cash during elections is on a steady rise. In Vellore alone over Rs 11.48 crore packed in plastic bags, with ward-wise details, was seized from a DMK functionary. In fact, Tamil Nadu, where Rs 552.23 crore in gold, silver, cash and other valuable items has been seized, is not an exception.
Since the beginning of the Lok Sabha poll process till April 15, 2019, cash, drugs and liquor valued at over Rs 2500 crore have been seized across the country. And this is stated to be double that of 2014 polls!
Gujarat recorded the maximum seizure valued at Rs 509 crore. Seizure of liquor off the State’s coast is estimated at Rs 500 crore. The figures for Andhra Pradesh are put at Rs 158.61 crore, Punjab Rs 144.39 crore, Nagaland Rs 92.26 crore in cash 62000 litres of liquor — total of Rs 3.02 crore and UP Rs 135.13 crore. Figures from other States continue to trickle in. According to an estimate, the EC seizures are estimated at Rs 100 crore a day!
This also proves that across the States, those contesting come from good financial support, be it the family of HD Deve Gowda or various other candidates from Congress and the BJP. Even smaller parties such as the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal are no exception. Obviously, a clear enough hint that hard cash plays a key role in these elections. Can the poor man really contest elections unless he creates a clout?
Some candidates are not seen to be so affluent. But they have support of the parties. So where do the parties get their funding. According to National Election Watch, 8.9 per cent of the income of parties is from unknown sources, 2.16 per cent from the electoral bonds. The Congress earns 82 per cent from unknown sources and the BJP 73 per cent. They say these are through voluntary contributions or sale of coupons.
Data show that six electoral trusts donated about Rs 105 crore to national parties between 2005 and 2012 before transparency guidelines were introduced in 2014 mandating disclosure of donors. From 2014 and 2017, nine registered electoral trusts donated a total Rs 637.54 crore to political parties. The contribution to political parties rose from Rs 85 crore in 2014 to Rs 325.27 crore in 2017.
The BJP was the single most beneficiary. About Rs 10 crore went to the cash-strapped Congress and Rs 5 crore to Odisha’s Biju Janata Dal and other parties including Shiromani Akali Dal, Samajwadi, AAP and Rashtriya Lok Dal. Thus, fund raising is a difficult issue. It helps the ruling or larger parties at the Centre and States. Congress had benefitted earlier and now the BJP is having an advantage.
Money power undeniably plays a critical role. The corporate-type functioning of parties, tight-fisted approach of leaders, reminiscent of the Indira Gandhi era, raise many questions. If money flows in, external influence is natural. Are the parties really having a democratic functioning though all say they adhere to it? In 1990s, Congressmen raised it and demanded election of office-bearers through the ballot. Party spokesman VN Gadgil then said that an all-India party needed an EC type organisation to hold polls but it was expensive.
Since then, the grip of the ‘high command’ increased. All parties love the autocratic structure. Smaller it is more is the stranglehold. Lobbies penetrate these, as one or the other, has importance in different regions.
This mocks internal democracy. So buying votes, as has been alleged in Supreme Court, now is the custom to save huge investments. A change in government can make or mar companies. Since all are beneficiaries, none raises the “political” issue.
Deep cleansing of the system is needed. Stock sensex may be a ruse for covering up political malfunctioning. Perhaps, NOTA is exposing the unholy nexus. That’s the vibrancy of democracy. EC has taken the right step in Vellore, now it needs to popularise NOTA. Ensure vote is not wasted and the people’s will is carried out.—INFA