India Insight

It’s raining freebies for voters in Tamil Nadu

By Neha Arha

With assembly elections in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu approaching, the trend of expecting something free in return for casting your vote is catching up fast. It is raining freebies in the state and this time it is not just colour television sets or liquor but also laptops for college students.

Policemen march near a poster of AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa in Chennai May 6, 2004. REUTERS/Babu/FilesBeating incumbent chief minister M. Karunanidhi, her arch rival in the state, AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa has promised four grams of gold to poor voters, in addition to cable TV connections at subsidised rates.

Not lagging behind in the race, national parties like the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, while condemning state parties for what they term “bribing voters”, have offered stationery to students, sanitary napkins to women and 100,000 rupees ($2,260) deposit for female children born in a below-poverty-line family as poll promises in a bid to mark its presence in the state.

Such promises appear to contravene the Indian Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct of bribing voters.

The DMK’s poll promise of providing a laptop to the state’s college students may cost over 10 billion rupees ($226 million), the Hindu reported on Thursday.

The no-vote option: Will Indians ever exercise it?

Democracy is all about choice and there have been calls to introduce a “none of the above” option in electronic voting machines so that guardians of the election process in the world’s largest democracy can reject candidates who don’t pass muster.

And if this is likely to get sucked into political wrangling – the fate of most pertinent issues in India – some say the Election Commission (EC), political activists and those urging the “sleeping population to wake up and vote” should  advertise the virtues of Rule 49-O of the Conduct of Elections Rules, which allows you to register your disapproval.

A peek into the election rulebook reveals the following about 49-O: “Elector deciding not to vote – If an elector, after his electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters in Form-17A and has put his signature or thumb impression thereon as required under sub-rule (1) of rule 49L, decided not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in Form 17A by the presiding officer and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark.”