On polling day, residents weigh in on the consequences of cash

The Election Commission had put up banners and posters across R.K. Nagar urging voters not to sell their votes. Yet, residents queuing up outside many polling booths in the constituency on Thursday were fairly open in admitting that they had accepted payment for votes, ranging from ₹3,000 to ₹6,000. M. Husain, a resident of Jeeva Nagar, Korukkupet, said: “Why wouldn’t people accept money when it is being freely offered?”

For the residents of this densely-populated north Chennai neighbourhood, comprising mostly working class households, ₹5,000 or ₹6,000 per vote could make a difference this holiday season. Some of the voters with a political background, however, are looking at the bigger picture. S. Sandilyan, a resident of Kodungaiyur and member of the Republican Party of India, told The Hindu that because of the price tag on votes in R.K. Nagar, residents would not be able to question their elected representatives on development.

“There is no basic infrastructure in the area. Most people live in unauthorised colonies, sewerage systems are poor, and inner roads are in a shambles. People here desperately need better livelihood opportunities but who cares? The attitude of the residents here is unfortunate: Whoever comes to power is not going to deliver anyway, so make the most of the situation and earn as much as you can,” he said.

N. Danam, a resident of Ezhil Nagar in Korukkupet for 30 years, said the availability of drinking water is a major problem and residents are completely dependent on tanker lorries that are erratic. Roads running along railway track in Korukkupet witness traffic snarls each time the gate is closed. Despite demands, no flyover has been constructed in Nehru Nagar and Ezhil Nagar, she said. Often, children are late to school if they got stuck at one of the gates. The approach roads to the nearest government high school in Patel Nagar are unsafe, she said.

Ezhil Nagar lies next to the Kodungaiyur dumping yard and a permanent stench fills the air. “There was a severe outbreak of dengue in our locality and most children suffer from breathing problems. There are also reports of drugs being sold to school children, but nobody has bothered to address these issues,” Ms. Danam said.

But M. Robert, a Kasimedu container lorry operator and a registered voter in R.K. Nagar, asserted that it was unfair to blame the residents alone for selling their votes. “Why are parties and candidates offering money allowed to contest?” he asked.

Turning point

V. Suresh, National General Secretary of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), cited a study he had undertaken in 2013 for the Barefoot Academy of Governance, which showed that cash distribution undermined the rights to hold an elected representative accountable. The study, which looked at a successful water democratisation project of TWAD Board in six villages of Dharmapuri, Trichy, Madurai, Tiruvannamalai and Tiruvallur, showed a weakening of community-led water governance structures there after 2006. “Post the 2006 T.N. elections and the emergence of notes for votes, the democratic fabric of society has been under severe stress. People are willing to forego their right to question their leader, and conversely, the electoral representative also feels entitled to plunder the voter,” he said.

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