Elections 2019: The inside story on cash movement

Just last week, in Tamil Nadu, the former DMK Minister Durai Murugan’s place was raided and the raid  yielded several crores of rupees neatly packed in several bags and boxes marked with street-wise names along with the entire voters’ list of the streets.

“Such meticulousness is needed to pull off an election victory,” says a booth agent of a party.

Well, it is a fact that money power has become rampant in Indian polls and it is equally true that bribing voters through hard cash is now becoming a standard thing across many States. Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Karnataka are extremely notorious for this.

It is alleged that money is hidden in rotis and other equally innocuous-looking things to woo voters. 

Says the district secretary of a national party in Andhra Pradesh, “I have personally not seen money being hidden in rotis and sent to people. But I do believe these things evolve or get done based on local realities”.

But he says that apart from bribe money for individuals to vote, party leadership and candidates also need to splurge to bring ‘crowds’ to meetings.

“There are hardly one or two leaders in the entire country who can draw crowds on their own. The harsh reality is you have to bring crowds to meetings,” he says, and adds: “Typically, in southern states, the going rate is Rs 150-200 per head, plus a packet of biryani and a ‘quarter’ (a small bottle of liquor) for men if the meeting is for an hour or two and involves big leaders.

For roadside meetings and rallies, the money is given on a contract basis to an ‘agent’ who ensures sizable crowds when the leader speaks or passes through.”   

It seems that there is no set pattern or methods to how money is moved at various levels. This we have pieced together after speaking to leaders and workers at several levels of various political parties. (The amounts that are spent and who all will be given the same are decided by the party and the candidate in question. These individual things are bound to change from party to party and place to place):

“Since vehicles are checked heavily, hiding the money in the trunk is no longer risk-free. We have carried money after placing it inside the spare tyre of cars. We have also transported money inside an ambulance that was carrying a patient. Government vehicles are also used as they tend to attract lesser scrutiny.”

“We have sent money through families, travelling in public transport, as they don’t fall under usual suspects list. Old women are also chosen for this task these days. We once moved money inside new vehicles which themselves were being transported through large containers.”

Typically, a single booth agent’s job is to ensure 1,000-1,500 votes for a candidate. The agent will be sent the money 15 or 20 days before the election and he or she will work out a safe modality to distribute the cash one or two days before the polling date.

Among the methods used in this stretch is to slip crisp notes in between the folds of newspapers delivered to homes or any other thing that most households need on a daily basis. Or a code word or some such is spread through reliable grapevine in the area, and when the same is uttered in an earmarked shop or outlet, the shopkeeper will pass on cash or goods.

In the RK Nagar by-election in Tamil Nadu, torn twenty-rupee note (which had been secretly given to voters earlier) had to be produced at a particular shop after voting to get a bigger amount (Rs 5,000).

Booth agents say that money is stashed and safeguarded in godowns or warehouses or educational institutions where a group can sit and do the sorting without catching anyone’s attention.

“Ultimate secrecy is the name of the game. The stakes are high and the consequences of betrayal are also high. Sometimes, it can be death,” the booth agent’s tone is appropriately chilling.  

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