Don’t laugh at joke of the year, decade, century

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: The Election Commission may be harbouring under the belief that it has been able to curb the flow of money in the current election through the strict implementation of the model code of conduct.

And the middle-classes may be thrilled to bits that election expenditure has been brought down considerably. But ask serious candidates in the fray and they will tell you that the situation is exact opposite.

Neither has money circulation come down nor is there any drop in the expenses.

In fact, the situation is otherwise.

Many of the candidates feel that election expenses are on the rise despite, possibly because of, the model code. Instead of the old system, where the candidates had accounts in select bars and hotels for meeting the expenses of hangers on, the latter now want their pound of flesh in cash.

“Give us the money and we make our own expenses,” is their new mantra, and the candidates are hardly in a position to say no.

In previous elections, especially pre-1994, “Kattala Raat” (the dark night)—the 48 hours from the end of campaigning to the beginning of polling—was the sunrise period as parties and politicians dangled a variety of blandishments to get voters to plump for them.

But after T.N. Seshan‘s model of conduct came into force, the “Kattala Raat” dawns much earlier. The nefarious activities are no longer confined to the last 48 hours before the close of poll as it used to be earlier. “Now every day is a Kattala Raat, where the money has to flow” say the candidates.

During the visit of L.K. Advani, the question arose as to where the curbs placed by the EC had brought down the expenditure. “No, Sir, it has gone up instead” was the refrain of many a candidate who met the BJP leader.

This impression is also shared by the Congress, where in some places money power continues to be openly flaunted, curbs or no curbs by the Election Commission, and the candidates are getting away, much to the chagrin of others in the field.

***

Ravi Krishna Reddy, the NRI techie who stood as an independent candidate from the Jayanagar constituency in Bangalore, has meanwhile written to the Election Commission on the issue.

To:
Chief Electoral Officer
(Karnataka State)
DPAR (Elections), Old KGID Building Annexe
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Veedhi
Bangalore – 560 001

Subject: Cruel Joke of Election Expenditure Limit and Distortion of Poll Symbol by Election Commission

Dear Sir,

I, Ravi Krishna Reddy, contested from Jayanagar constituency as an independent candidate to protest against immoral and unethical political practices, and the growing use of money power in Karnataka’s democracy.

My candidature was meant to show that there is place for an alternative model of electoral politics, which is legal, ethical and value based.

When there are innumerable examples of MLA candidates spending crores of rupees for just an assembly election, I was convinced that the only way to fight these illegal and unethical practices was by public participation and fighting the election with public funding.

I had raised Rs. 4,22,000 (approx) from the public, starting with Rs. 10 donated by a 70-year-old, poor woman of Ragigudda jhopadi, to 105 other Indian donors from across the world. To this, I added my own contribution of Rs. 23,000. In all, I spent Rs. 4,45,291 for the election.

Hope you, too, have noticed this as this information was made public as soon as the election was over.

My preamble is relevant because I am told by officials in the Jayanagar constituencys Returning Office that I am the only candidate who spent more than Rs 4 lakh in this constituency! According to them, all the other candidates have shown their expenses to be less than 4 lakhs!

I ask in wonder: how is this possible?

Because, I have seen rallies taken out by political parties in this constituency, with hundreds of workers, on multiple occasions. On two occasions, I myself witnessed rallies at Jayanagar shopping complex in which the current MP waving at the public from the rooftop of a van. Hundreds of daily-wage workers, many four-wheelers, and innumerable motor bikes were all part of this procession.

I was also present in the same premises when a candidate was having lunch with hundreds of poor, daily-wage workers inside a big marriage hall. Special, colorful, expensive handbills and booklets were distributed by the candidates all across the constituency.

Isn’t it a cruel joke to say that even after all these expenses, none of the candidates have spent more than Rs 4 lakh?

Hasn’t the EC officials taken videos of these processions and noticed the publicity materials of the candidates and its worth?

After noticing all this, I strongly believe that the Election Commission has not fulfilled its duty responsibly and legally. Without keeping a tab on candidates expenses, I believe EC has sent an open message to all the candidates across the country and that message is: Spend as much as you want, but let your expense returns be within Rs 10 lakh. We do not verify any details. The ceiling of 10 lakhs is just on paper and is of no significance whatsoever.

I am concerned that the EC is not taking any measures to enforce the expenditure limits and this legal limit is a farce. I have to say with deep regret that EC is not doing any justice to law-abiding citizens of India, who want to contest the elections, rightfully and legally.

At this moment, at least for the third phase of elections, I strongly urge you to deploy observers behind candidates and their workers to make sure that they won’t cross the expenditure ceiling, and thereby provide justice to the candidates who respect and abide by the law.

***

Along with this, I also would like to draw your attention towards the complaint that I have lodged with the RO of Jayanagar constituency. The EC allotted “Nagara” as my poll symbol. But, the symbol that was printed on the ballot box of EVM was something else. We spent almost Rs. 30,000 for street plays and the display of actual Nagaras.

We organized these street plays in the constituency where low-income, uneducated voters are in large numbers. (As a matter of fact, some of the Tamil speaking voters were constantly reminding us that ‘Nagara‘ is the symbol of one of Tamil Nadu’s political parties.) But, on the day of the election, the symbol that was on the ballot box next to my name was something other than the officially allotted ‘Nagara‘ symbol.

Some news reports quoted the RO as saying, “It is not a major blunder.”

I strongly protest against this kind of irresponsible statement. This was an error and the RO should have considered what the law says for such a situation, instead of opining whether it is a major or minor blunder.

So, hereby I request you to kindly let me know what measures you have taken. Otherwise, I may have to consider exploring my legal options. Before I take that extreme measure, I believe getting these details and being educated by you regarding my choices are within my rights.

The fact that I was the candidate who has spent the maximum amount of money in this constituency and this campaign was run by the hard-earned money of ordinary people compels me morally to demand answers and seek justice.

Sincerely

Ravi Krishna Reddy
Independent Candidate
Jayanagar Assembly Constituency
Karnataka

Also read: Is every election null and void even before the poll?

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