Lok Sabha elections: Voters lured by cash handouts, drugs, bootleg liquor

Apr 15 2014, 19:44 IST
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Lok Sabha elections voting began on April 7, winds up on May 12 and results on May 16. Reuters Lok Sabha elections voting began on April 7, winds up on May 12 and results on May 16. Reuters
SummaryLok Sabha elections voting began on April 7, winds up on May 12 and results on May 16.

has never taken off.

Critics say a first-past-the-post system for electing lawmakers means the pressure on candidates to outspend their rivals is intense. And in a country where nearly a third of the population of 1.2 billion is estimated to live on less than $1 a day, relatively little money can go a long way.

With a legal spending limit of 7 million rupees ($116,200) for each parliamentary seat at stake, much of the money being spent by candidates has been driven underground.

They splash out on political rallies, luring voters and party workers with free meals, cash in envelopes, plastic pouches of alcohol and - in the case of the youth of Punjab - small black balls of opium paste that they drink with tea.

Dash said his team had found cash in the dashboards of cars, liquor in milk vans and synthetic drugs in trucks carrying vegetables.

One man caught with 40 million rupees in a small car at a checkpoint in the northern town of Ghaziabad three days before polling there said he was a businessman.

But he could not explain what his business was and he seemed to have no source of income. Police filed a case against him, one of 9,000 lodged across the country since the campaign began.

In two southern states, vans carrying banknotes for bank ATMs were discovered with sacks of unaccounted-for additional money. Cash was also found in an ambulance in Odisha after a policeman noticed a suspiciously high number of the vehicles on the move in a remote corner of the eastern state.

To escape detection, politicians are handing out coupons to voters that they can use to get free alcohol and food.

In Punjab, the commission has seized cartons of pink coupons that voters can exchange for a free chicken, blue coupons for local liquor and green ones for branded spirits.

ROLLING PIN BRIGADE

More worrying is the distribution of drugs that is worsening an already serious problem in Punjab.

Besides heroin smuggled from over the border with Pakistan, record seizures of synthetic drugs have been made in the past month, the state's additional electoral officer Raminder Singh said.

"It is contraband goods. You can't say for sure for what purpose, (but) the fact that it has been caught during the election period makes it suspect," said Singh.

Anita Sharma, an architect-turned-civil rights activist who is leading a campaign against drug abuse in elections in Punjab, said political workers hand out capsules of

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