An election is the biggest festival in a vibrant democracy. Games politicians play to outshine rivals at the hustings often force the referee, the Election Commission of India (ECI), to put its foot down.
Still, the Model Code of Conduct governing elections is often breached. The run-up to the 10 May Assembly elections in Karnataka, too, has been witnessing several such foul plays. Offering freebies to voters is one among them.
Sarees, T-shirts, caps, kidswear, bedsheets, home appliances such as iron boxes, LED television sets, home theatres, wall clocks, food grain kits, edible oil, gift hampers containing glassware like soup bowls and cutlery, liquor, mirrors, etc, are commonly offered to voters — besides, of course, money.
But this time, a loyalist of a particular political formation took the freebie game closer to a ground reality that left the electorate seeing blue and green — literally!
Waste management is a major headache in Indian metros and Bengaluru is no exception. According to a rough estimate, the city generates 4,000 tonnes of waste a day, and wet waste comprises 1,200 tonnes of the total garbage.
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Politics over waste
In the first week of April, Raviraj SP, an assistant engineer deployed as an election officer, received a tip-off saying a party loyalist was distributing waste bins among the electorate at Lakshmipura in South Bengaluru’s Chickpet Assembly constituency.
Raviraj found out that the loyalist had procured blue and green-coloured waste bins for ₹75,000. Different colours were to meant to segregate the waste at the source: Blue for dry waste and green for wet.
Based on a complaint from Raviraj, the Kempegowda Nagar Police, who initially registered a non-cognizable report, later registered an FIR against one Chandrashekar based on a court directive.
Further investigation revealed that Chandrashekar, 55, of Lakshmipura, is a voluntarily-retired tehsildar and president of a residents’ welfare association and as well as a workers’ association in the area.
He reportedly told the police that he distributed waste bins for creating awareness among the people to come out and exercise their franchise. The police, however, did not take his version into account, since the bins were imprinted with his name and phone number.
Additionally, his political allegiance, too, is well-known in the area. Chandrasekhar claimed that he had seen people carrying garbage in banned plastic bags, posing a danger to the environment.
He told the police that he wanted to create awareness among people on waste management and hence distributed waste bins. The timing, however, did not match his claimed “noble” intention.
“Since the Model Code of Conduct is in place, distributing any freebie amount to its violation and legal action will be initiated,” a senior police officer attached to the Kempegowda Nagar police station told South First.
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Chandrasekhar refutes charge
Chandrasekhar, however, has been standing his ground. “I am a responsible citizen and I was only conducting an awareness programme for my association members so that they would come out and vote in large numbers,” he told South First.
“However, the police and election officials pulled some strings and got me booked in this case even though I have not done anything wrong,” he added.
The police have seized all waste bins and sent them to the court along with a report for which the offender, if found guilty, could be slapped with a fine under Section 171E (punishment for bribery) of the IPC.
Investigating officer Sub-Inspector Nagabhushan told South First that since there are three major slums — Sanyasi Kunte, Bhavani Nagar and Dhobi Ghat — in the Kempegowda Nagar Police’s jurisdictional area, instances of distributing freebies are common.
“We take action whenever we get the information,” he said.
Also see: Freebies and freebies
Free pilgrimages and missing votes
Political parties promise voters free pilgrimages too. Police sources told South First that people, especially slum dwellers, are ferried in large numbers to temples on the day of polling.
Usually, this is carried out by a rival political party or parties when they are sure these voters would favour a rival candidate. The voters from the slums are taken elsewhere to prevent them from voting, police sources explained.
According to the office of Karnataka’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), flying squads, static surveillance teams, the police, excise, and income-tax authorities have seized unaccounted cash to the tune of ₹71.9 crore so far.
Additionally, 9.2 lakh litres of liquor worth ₹38.75 crore, precious metals worth ₹29 crore, banned narcotic substances weighing 821 kg and worth ₹15.12 crore, and other freebies worth ₹18.9 crore, too, were seized.
All the seizures were made between 29 March, the date on which the poll code came into force, and Monday, 17 April, an official statement revealed.
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FIRs registered so far
Till Monday, 1,490 FIRs were registered for attempted distribution of freebies. The statement said 68,113 arms have been deposited with the police, while 18 others were impounded.
The authorities have also cancelled 20 gun licences, besides registering 4,110 cases under the preventive sections of the CrPC, besides detaining 6,190 people.
Additionally, 10,284 non-bailable warrants have been executed. The excise department booked 1,888 serious cases, along with 1,399 cases for the Breach of Licence Conditions, 67 cases under the Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substance Act and 9,258 cases under Section 15 (a) of Karnataka Excise Act, 1965.
Further, 1,268 vehicles have been confiscated. The police also seized 156.35 kg of marijuana — the largest haul — valued at ₹1.55 crore in the Humnabad constituency in the Bidar district, the statement added.