May 27, 2020
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A. Raja is still a hero to some in his Perambalur constituency. In his Tihar jail cell, he can whoop with joy that at least 10 people in his constituency filed applications in his name for the assembly elections

Chennai Corner

Leader Equals Moolah  

Most people would view former telecom minister A. Raja with scam-tinted eyes and sit in judgement on him because he has become synonymous with the 2G scam that the CAG said led the country to lose 1.76 lakh crores. Now, a day after Sadiq Batcha’s “suicide”, Raja’s guilt in the scam will only be more emphasised. But he’s still a hero to some in his Perambalur constituency. In his Tihar jail cell, Raja can whoop with joy that at least 10 people in his constituency filed applications in his name for the assembly elections scheduled for April 13. As M Prabhakaran, one of the Perambalur residents who filed an application in his name, said: “Irrespective of whether he will contest, we are showing our support for him.”

“Support” also brings in moolah for the party because most of the applicants file in the name of the party leader. It’s a long standing tradition just like rigging up cut-outs, genuflecting before leaders and pulling temple cars (for AIADMK chief Jayalalitha) to get a leader’s attention. For many it’s a future “investment” because if you are a partyman you could increase your chances of being a candidate in the next election. If you are a trader, again it’s a small price to pay for future favours from the party. It’s a shrewd move to secure a future, so what if you are regarded as a sycophant?

Even if the DMK alliance (it has four allies and three other parties fighting under the DMK’s rising sun symbol) wins, current CM M Karunanidhi may or may not come back as the chief minister because he has often talked about retiring and handing over to son Stalin who is currently the deputy CM. Now Stalin, thanks to all the intrigue in the family caused by rivalry with his brother Azhagiri, has said Karunanidhi will come back as CM for the sixth time. But Dashrathan, a smalltime businessman in Chennai, while claiming that he was thankful to the CM for the various welfare measures, took no chances while displaying his sycophancy when filing an application. He filed an application both in Karunanidhi and Stalin’s names, fetching the party Rs 10,000.

One party estimate says that 7,000 applications have been filed in the name of Karunanidhi and Stalin. That means, their combined clout has fetched the party Rs 3.5 crore because each application is filed along with Rs 5000, which is not a refundable deposit.

With AIADMK chief Jayalalitha’s stock riding high — evidence is her latest move unilaterally announcing party candidates for 160 seats causing much heartburn among her allies — there were 5,000 applications in her name and since each application costs 10,000 (this is double the price a DMK applicant has to pay) , the party collected a cool Rs five crore. In the last assembly election in 2006, only 1,000 applications were submitted in her name.

Not to be left behind in the star stakes is DMDK’s Vijayakant who is contesting 41 seats. After tying up with the “winning” alliance of the AIADMK which has 12 other parties in its corner (the MDMK is still sulking because Amma has offered nine in contrast to its demand of 12 after scaling down its earlier demand of 31), the actor-politician has equated himself to Jaya. His party is collecting Rs 10,000 for its applications and so far there have been 1,000 in his name, which means the DMDK’s coffers are richer by Rs one crore.

It’s Raining Bucks

It rained freebies for the last five years and now it is raining money. At the last count it was Rs 7.5 crore but one can add many more zeroes to that figure because elections are still almost a month away and much money will flow down the Cooum, Vaigai, and elsewhere. Intelligence reports say that political parties will pump in as much as Rs 5000 crore for what one of the Wikileaks cables described as "a way of political life in South India", viz:  to buy votes with notes.

In suburban Tiruchi where transport minister K N Nehru is expected to contest, people who went to their doors to collect their morning newspaper, found packets containing a dhoti and a sari. Others found the packets had been hurled in through an open window. In these terrorism-tinged times, some people were afraid to open the strange packet fearing a bomb, but some were more brave than cautious. However, the Election Commission was furious and the rest of the day saw flying squads of the EC gathering up bundles of dhotis and saris. “We collected about 157 saris and 200 dhotis from one locality,” says Revenue Divional Officer S Sangeetha.

The EC has its work cut out with some political parties instructing each party member to “take care” of 50 voters to pass under the EC scanner.

“The flow of money is our biggest challenge. Even the money confiscated in the recent seizures does not cover it all. There is a huge amount of money flowing,” said chief election commissioner S Y Quraishi this week during a media briefing. The recent seizure he was referring to was in Madurai where Rs 3.5 crore in cash was seized a few days ago from five places. With a Wikileaks report confirming that the way to votes in the Lok Sabha 2009 and bypolls in this state, particularly in Thirumangalam, was through “bribes from political parties to voters in the form of cash, goods or services are a regular feature”, the challenge before the EC in these forthcoming assembly elections is mammoth.

And For Ever Rule...

But political parties have been protesting the seizure of cash, reiterating what DMK’s T R Baalu told the EC during the meeting with political parties. “Do not harass small traders. They were carrying money for legitimate purposes,” he said. And that argument will be played out in the next few days after every seizure. But Qureshi has countered this saying , “We had received a complaint that the party, under the cover of compensating workers under NREGA scheme, was disbursing money for other purposes.”

Banks which have suspicious withdrawals of more than Rs one lakh are being monitored by district collectors. While the EC had carried out random checks in past elections, all the stories about how money power was used to get votes during the last five years has led to the commission conducting massive search operations to stamp down on cash for votes.

“If anyone carries more than Rs one lakh cash, it calls for scrutiny as per income tax law. In most cases, people who carry cash also carry relevant support documents,” says the state’s Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar. And to political parties who are getting shrill over the seizures, he has an answer: Almost 95 per cent of people are allowed to go after checking. Only about 5 per cent people who carry huge amounts of money get caught because they don’t have supporting documents.

Toxic rumours

Even as Japan grapples with unending catastrophe, Chennai city and the coastal areas of the state which saw death and destruction after the 2004 tsunami, showed that it had not quite recovered from the panic induced by that calamitous event. First there was a rumour about the Japanese tsunami travelling here. And now it is a rumour and chain mails that citizens should beware of radiation showers. These mails warn that “radioactive particles, which may cause burns, alopecia or even cancer, may be in the rain.” These mails ask people to wear raincoats, umbrellas and scarves even if there was a light drizzle. Well, with the mercury soaring there’s no chance of rain here and in any case, umbrellas, raincoats and scarves will not protect you from radioactivity. Besides, as Dr M Srinivasan, former associate director of the physics group at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), says, “Even the idea that a radiation leak in Japan could affect us is ridiculous. We are very very far away.” Maybe we should learn stoicism from the Japanese in the face of snowballing calamity.

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