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Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections 2016

Cash-for-vote: Genesis of the ‘Thirumangalam formula’

In this January 18, 2009 photo, DMK leader M.K Stalin, accompanied by M.K. Alagiri and MLA-elect Latha Athiyaman thank the electorate of Thirumangalam. Photo: S. James.

In this January 18, 2009 photo, DMK leader M.K Stalin, accompanied by M.K. Alagiri and MLA-elect Latha Athiyaman thank the electorate of Thirumangalam. Photo: S. James.  

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More than Rs. 100 crore has been seized by election expenditure monitoring officials in Tamil Nadu since the model code came into effect on March 4, 2016. Though, close to Rs. 30 crore has been returned after verification of documents, it was the biggest haul among all the States participating in the current round of Assembly elections and way beyond the Rs. 25 crore seized from the State in the last parliamentary elections and Rs. 35.53 crore in the 2011 Assembly elections.

Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections 2016 saw its share of dramatic accusations, and amounts, in terms of cash-for-vote during the election campaign. A >case has been filed against MDMK general secretary and People’s Welfare Front coordinator Vaiko for his March 28, 2016 allegations that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had stashed at least Rs. 2,000 crore inside a sprawling bungalow at Siruthavur in Kancheepuram district.

On April 22, 2016, >election officials seized Rs. 10.33 lakh from a parking shed belonging to one Anbunathan — a realtor said to be close to some AIADMK functionaries — at Ayyampalayam in Karur district. An ambulance with a Government of India marking and about a dozen currency counting machines were also seized. The raid triggered speculations that a huge amount of cash had been stashed at the shed for distribution to voters.

Two days later, >nearly Rs. 4.72 crore was recovered from two men , said to be the sons of a political party functionary based in Thanjavur.

Election Commission officials seized over >Rs. 4 crore on May 10, 2016 in Chennai. The next day, over >Rs 4.16 crore was confiscated in various places across the State. This included Rs. 2 crore from the residence and other premises of DMK candidate for Aravakurichi constituency K.C. Palanichamy and his son K.C.P. Shivaraman at Karur.

Though it has not been a new phenomenon and Andhra Pradesh is ahead of Tamil Nadu in terms of poll-time cash seizure, the latter has a “special” place in the annals of elections.

The famous expression “Thirumangalam formula” comes to the mind of anyone confronting the money factor in elections. The formula became so popular that it was even > discussed in a cable sent out by the U.S. embassy to the State Department in 2009.

The art of influencing voters could have been arguably perfected by the DMK regime in January 2009 during the Thirumangalam byelection in Madurai district. The >practice of bribing voters started in February 2003 with the byelection during the previous AIADMK regime at Sathankulam in Tuticorin district. Sarees and utensils, apart from cash, were distributed, mainly among rural people in Sathankulam. The AIADMK won the constituency defeating its nearest Congress rival. And in 2009, the DMK romped home.

The U.S. embassy cable sent on May 13, 2009, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, quoted a close aide of former Union Minister M.K. Alagiri, son of DMK president M.Karunanidhi, as saying: “It is no secret at all, Azhagiri paid 5,000 rupees per voter in Thirumangalam.” (He changed his name’s official spelling from “Azhagiri” to “Alagiri” in August 2009.)

Drawing from several sources the cable explained the modus operandi for cash distribution adopted by the DMK in Thirumangalam: “Rather than using the traditional practice of handing cash to voters in the middle of the night, in Thirumangalam, the DMK distributed money to every person on the voting roll in envelopes inserted in their morning newspapers. In addition to the money, the envelopes contained the DMK ‘voting slip' which instructed the recipient for whom they should vote.” This, the cable noted, “forced everyone to receive the bribe.”

According to the cable, though the aide foresaw difficulties in replication of this formula in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in which Mr. Alagiri was a candidate, he still planned “on giving it to every voter through the newspaper distribution method.” Mr. Alagiri won the election and went on to become Union Minister.

Though the Election Commission has ratcheted up its machinery to curb the cash-for-vote, accusations and counter accusations haven’t stopped. While the DMK is accusing the AIADMK of manipulating the official machinery to distribute money, the AIADMK hasn’t stopped pointing fingers at its rival. The People’s Welfare Front accuses both. In some areas of Chennai, experiencing short-duration power cuts in the nights, rumours abound that money has been distributed. Such reports have >prompted the EC to issue a notice to the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Company (Tangedco).

Reports from a section of the Tamil media even predict heavy distribution of money soon after end of campaigns on May 14, 2016 until election day on May 16, 2016.

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Printable version | Jul 19, 2018 12:05:15 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/tamilnadu2016/cashforvote-genesis-of-the-thirumangalam-formula/article8601057.ece