RK Nagar bypoll cancellation: A damning indictment

By cancelling the by-election to the Dr. Radhakrishnan Nagar Assembly constituency in Tamil Nadu, the Election Commission has gone well beyond indicting the ruling AIADMK (Amma), and its candidate and deputy general secretary, T.T.V. Dhinakaran. In its elaborate order, the EC also raised the possibility of disqualifying a candidate for a period up to six years if the candidate exceeded the prescribed limit for election expenses by either directly incurring or authorising them in the campaign, and for three years for failure to render a correct account of the expenses. Clearly, the EC, while detailing the series of violations that its personnel recorded, was not being defensive of its own monitoring of the electoral process. The order recalled the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, relating to disqualification of a candidate, and the source of the EC’s own powers, Article 324 of the Constitution. During the Assembly election last year, the EC had postponed polls in two constituencies citing electoral malpractices, but nothing more came of it. The same candidates of the two major parties, the AIADMK and the DMK, contested the elections when they were held later. This time, expressing its “anguish over the sordid state of affairs”, the EC stated that the methods adopted by parties and their leaders to bypass the monitoring of unauthorised and illegal election expenses needed to be dealt with a heavy hand. Without doubt, the tone and tenor of the order reveal a seriousness of purpose that goes beyond the immediate circumstances of the R.K. Nagar by-election. For Mr. Dhinakaran, the stakes were higher than for any other candidate, desperate as he was for political legitimacy and a possible shot at chief ministership. There was a popular impression that he tried to pay his way to victory by systematically distributing cash, ward-wise, through ministers and party functionaries. The EC did its best to monitor the electoral process, through an unprecedented number of central observers, flying squad teams, static surveillance teams and video surveillance teams. But these did not appear to have had a deterrence effect. There were complaints of innovative forms of inducement: milk tokens, mobile phone recharge coupons, newspaper subscriptions, cash transfer to no-frills bank accounts and payments to mobile wallets. But despite the registration of cases, arrests and identification of malpractices, it was clear that ruling party functionaries were continuing with their offer of inducements and allurements. When the Income Tax department submitted a report dated April 8 about its search and seizure action at the premises of Tamil Nadu Minister C. Vijaya Baskar, the EC concluded that the electoral process had been vitiated irredeemably. If public confidence in the democratic process is to be restored, the EC must ensure that candidates indulging in such electoral practices are debarred swiftly.

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