On the RK Nagar By-Election

G Ramakrishnan

THE Election Commission has countermanded the by-election to the RK Nagar assembly constituency in Tamil Nadu scheduled to be held on April 12, 2017. During the 2016 elections to the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly in 2016, elections to the constituencies of Aravakurichi and Thanjavur were countermanded for distribution of cash to voters. Those who have faith in parliamentary democracy must think about how to face this situation.

 The AIADMK had already followed many novel methods for buying votes in Tamil Nadu in the elections to the assembly constituencies of Sathankulam, Srirangam and RK Nagar. Likewise, earlier to these, the DMK had bribed voters with cash in several ways during a by-election to the assembly constituency of Tirumangalam. The formulae evolved by both DMK and AIADMK to give cash to voters and thus commoditise democracy are the ones that were followed in RK Nagar by-election.

Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dinakaran, elected deputy general secretary of AIADMK just before Sasikala went to prison on being convicted in the Disproportionate Assets case, was the AIADMK (Sasikala faction) candidate in RK Nagar. The faction led by O Panneerselvam fielded a rival candidate. Dinakaran distributed  Rs 4,000 per voter while the Pannerselvam faction paid Rs 3,000 and the DMK Rs 2,000 per voter for securing the vote. Complaints regarding distribution of cash to voters had been lodged with the Election Commission on behalf of the CPI(M). But no action was taken.

Despite the fact that elections had been cancelled in the past because of distribution of cash for votes by DMK and AIADMK, the Election Commission failed to take preventive action in RK Nagar to stop such cash distribution. This is a very big failure of the Commission. With cash distribution breaching all limits, the Income Tax department conducted raids in the offices and residences of the state health minister Vijayabaskar and of those connected with him. Large amounts of cash and documents were seized in these raids.  The seized documents revealed that an amount of Rs 94,73,44,000 (Ninety four crore seventy three lakhs and forty four thousand) had been distributed for payment at Rs 4,000 per voter to the two lakh thirty six thousand and eight hundred and thirty six voters in the RK Nagar constituency.  Modi claimed that black money will be wiped out through demonetisation. But it is not so. On the other hand this incident proved beyond doubt that such unaccounted money accumulated in corrupt ways has been used in this by-election.

It is against this background that the Election Commission has countermanded the by-election. At the same time, the Election Commission has not gone into the distribution of cash to voters by the AIADMK faction led by Pannerselvam and by the DMK. 

The Election Commission countermanded the elections to Aravakurichi and Thanjavur constituencies in 2016, demonstrating with evidence that both AIADMK and DMK had distributed cash. But when the elections to these constituencies took place later, the same candidates as before contested the elections on behalf of these two parties. The question arises in this background as to what action was taken against the candidates and the persons who distributed cash on their behalf. The Election Commission has cancelled the election to RK Nagar constituency on the ground of cash distribution. The Tamil Nadu state secretariat of the CPI(M) has urged the Election Commission to disqualify the candidates who have indulged in cash distribution from contesting when the election to RK Nagar is again held.

In one of its judgments, the Supreme Court has pointed out that the Election Commission should not merely stand by and watch when parties indulge in anti-democratic practices such as booth capturing and stuffing of ballot boxes with votes in favour of their candidates or distribution of cash for votes:

“Where these (enacted laws) are absent, and yet a situation has to be tackled, the Chief Election Commissioner has not to fold his hands and pray to God for divine inspiration to enable him to exercise his functions and to perform his duties or to look to any external authority for the grant of power to deal with the situation”.

The CPI(M) has been continuously emphasising that if elections are to be held in an honest and democratic manner, in addition to the steps taken by the Election Commission, several reforms in electoral rules have to be brought about.

In Tamil Nadu, both the present ruling party and the one that has ruled it in the past have been involved in the loot of river sands, mineral sands and granite. The politicians who carry out this loot make use of it not only to enrich themselves, but also to use such booty for buying votes in elections.

While cancelling the RK Nagar by-election, the Election Commission, in its report, has stated as follows regarding the distribution of cash or other materials to voters:

 “…distribution of money and other gift items on a large scale went on in clandestine manner vitiating the Purity of electoral process and disturbing the level playing field.”

The CPI(M) has been demanding that, in addition to taking steps to prevent corrupt practices, there should  be State funding to bear the election expenses of the candidates fielded by  recognised political parties.

Further, the CPI(M) stresses that the system of proportional representation should be followed in place of the existing system.

While the two factions of the AIADMK and the DMK resorted to cash distribution to voters instead of fighting the election politically, the CPI(M) fought the RK Nagar by-election by committing itself to fight for people’s demands and by putting forward an alternative political path.

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