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April 26, 2018

Booze, chicken and religious excursion: How wannabe MLAs are wooing voters in Karnataka

Harsha Raj Gatty

From organising a fleet of 25 luxury buses to ply natives from neighbouring state, to an MLA-aspirant delivering juicy Tandoori Chicken to the voter’s home, in a candid conversation with this reporter, respondents across some of the districts visited in poll-bound-Karnataka – gave detailed account of how their would-be representatives are trying to woo them for their ballots.

At the pre-2018 Karnataka polls, merely cash handout is simply not good enough. But in a local colloquial, a combination of Hana, Henda and Kanda (Money, Alcohol and Meat) or organising religious excursion to Mantralyam, Dharmasthala or Bengaluru trip - would enhance the candidates’ prospectus.

"What’s there in cash? Almost every other candidate gives some or the other handouts while visiting home for the campaign. I and my family of seven take money from all the parties, but it’s barely enough for a day," 37-year old Raju, a resident of Yadgir says.

At the venue, it becomes the party appointed contractor’s responsibility to systematically distribute - party logo branded caps, 1litre water bottle to these attendees under the scorching hot Karnataka season. Besides a pre-ordered parcel of hot lunch or dinner packets will be picked up by the bus driver on return journey from a hotel - away from the vigilant eyes of the election commission manning the rally grounds.

"It is only during election, we feel that democracy is working and the system gives value to common people like us. Once elected, we know the representatives will not visit us, but instead will be hobnobbing in Bengaluru for ministerial berths or other posts,” Pramila*, 47-year old tailor and a mother of two from Belagavi adds.

During the first week of May, a leader of a political party from Yadgir has booked 25- Volvo buses from Pune to Gurmitkal (Yadgir). Owing to shortage of employment, a large number of people, especially the male population has temporarily migrated to Pune, where they are employed in semi-skilled sectors. "Yes, a party leader's agent has booked the bus. The passengers are mostly skilled, semi-skilled labourers. A contractor will pay them at Pune on-boarding the bus and we are told to pick them up on May 12", Mahesh* a booking agent says.

"Although the voting of the individual is unknown, we have noted that these contractors are experts in keeping these natives in good humour. They touch them emotionally after reuniting these workers with their families over a free—luxury-ride. The gullible, semiliterate or illiterate people inturn votes in the favour of a party or a candidate – which these contractors dictate. This has been going on for years and frankly the ‘model’ seems to be working," Mahesh adds.

Upon return on May 13 at Pune bus stop (beyond ECI Karnataka jurisdictional purview) the passengers will once again receive a sum from the contractor.

At Bidar, Bhaskar a local correspondent who reports for Hyderbad-Karnataka region says that at least by mid January, they have learnt of the political aspirants advancing cash to restaurants, alcohol-retailers, contractors and turn the sum into a legitimate business preposition. "It’s a common knowledge. The aspirants or parties don’t handle the transaction directly. They have non-politically affiliated agents or contractors - who disburse the stipulated amount on their direction. They are long term-players, people value their word-of-mouth even if it means on returning their due post-elections," Bhaskar said.

For every restriction placed by the Election Commission for free and fair election, the candidates and the political parties seems to have found an alternative route. "While not much saving is retained in the hands of the political-contractors, the parties or the candidates on coming to power duly reward these agents by giving them tender contracts for Cement Concrete (CC) roads," Mahendra, a small restaurant owner at Chikkamagluru says.

At Hassan, recently an aspirant of a party created ruckus at the District party office after his name did not crop up both in the first and the second list. "Speaking fairly, this businessman and wannabe politician took a lot of pain funding local Kabbadi matches, paying petty shop bills of his constituents. When a few families did not attend his invite for his night-out Tandoori party being a bit conservative he made that his people deliver the Tandoori meat at their homes. So, though illegal, the aspirant’s frustration is justified," the core committee member of the party at Hassan says.

In Dharwad-Central, two political heavy-weights had thoroughly invested in distributing Sari, Mixer-grinders, Induction-cook plates and Pressure-cooker to the same constituents till early March. However, now that the party has named one candidate over the other - the dejected candidate has asked for appropriate compensation from the selected candidate as a guarantee to not acting spoilt-sport for his political aspiration.

Meanwhile, a political-contractor from Koppal, Keshava's hope to buy second-hand car hit a dead-end after the bank refused him additional loan. "A party gave me funds to purchase a car for myself for election-activities. I have promised them 4000 votes under my care-off. I had even sealed the deal with the seller. Although I provided 20 percent of the amount, the private Non-Banking Financial Company refused to give the remaining as my CIBIL score was low," he said dejected.

Although, not facing ATM-cash out horror stories in comparison to the North Karnataka counterparts, bankers in Dakshina Kannada are facing consumer backlash for dearth of Rs 100 currencies at their outlet. "It’s a regular problem during election; the political parties want to get people from rural areas for their city rallies, but not at the expense of Rs. 200, Rs 500 or Rs 2000. So they have stocked their buffers with most of the Rs.100 currencies for handouts. So ATM's these days generally dispense other currencies, except Rs. 100," a banker with a private bank says.

On being asked to one of the respondents at Chamarajnagar, hadn't it pricked his conscious to vote for the political party in favor of those paying him, the respondent feeling humiliated and in an agitated tone said. "Why do you think I should feel guilty? Is it your father's money I am asking? No, it belongs to the government. In the name of taxes, they have tricked me to giving it to them and I know I will never get to see any development. These leaders are not doing a favor by giving us the money, instead of getting in five-years we are getting all at once, it’s my rightful claim. Ultimately, I will vote for whom we want, so what's the problem" the 68-year Raghu said, while adding that he didn’t mean his verbal remarks to this reporter.

Booze, chicken and religious excursion: How wannabe MLAs are wooing voters in Karnataka

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