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Cash flow, freebies make voters wary

By Kabita Duarah

GUWAHATI, March 24 - Blatant show of strength, distribution of freebies and unimaginable investment in cash by candidates of all major political parties in the run-up to the Assembly election has made the voters wary about the merit of their prospective representatives who are going to take decisions on their behalf.

In such a backdrop, the Assam Election Watch that has been keeping a track on the largest democratic exercise pointed out that such big expenditures incurred by the political parties in less than a month has no development element at all, whatsoever and the status of education, health, poverty, food security, employment or any other development needs will not be influenced at all. It also said that such expenses fall heavy on the tax-payers only.

�Presently, the maximum ceiling for a candidate in the State contesting Assembly election is Rs 28 lakh. If there are 10 candidates in a constituency, Rs 2.8 crore of expenditures will be authorised to be incurred by these candidates. For what these expenditure would be incurred? Just to inform their voters how good they are?� asked Tasaduk Ariful Hussain, State Coordinator, Assam Election Watch.

What the conscious section of the electorate find contradictory is that although the law prescribes that the total election expenditure of candidates shall not exceed the maximum limit prescribed under Rule 90 of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, there is no expenditure ceiling set for political parties. As a result, political parties can spend as much as they want without any limit.

�Since there is no ceiling on the expenditure of a political party, these political parties are acquiring resources from various declared and undeclared sources and investing in the election to grab power. It is not difficult to understand that whoever is paying/donating to the political parties or the political leaders are the main directors of the drama and the political parties and the leaders are just mere loyal actors. Once a definite party or a candidate wins, these sponsors have an easy ride on the governance of the State or the country,� said Hussain.

Presently, campaigning is in full swing in the State. Common people have already felt the brunt of padayatras, motorcycle procession, helicopter hiring, etc.

�The main underlying phenomenon in the entire gimmick is to realise that somebody is spending money on these exercises. This is obviously an investment of some individuals or a group of individuals for a return called �power�. Bigger the investment, bigger the gimmick and more chances of acquiring the power. And those who win by investing cash will definitely take back the return in cash or otherwise from the tax-payers� money in due course,� said Hussain.

Dipankar Basumatary, a teacher in Kaziranga English Academy, Guwahati, also pressed for a cap on election spendings.

�Some may argue that election spendings should have no ethical issues if we are okay with multi-million dollar advertisement campaigns by MNCs. But it�s a pretty big �if�. Ad money comes from legitimate sources and the investment comes back through equally legal means. So the question is: where do the political parties get so much to spend on campaigns? What�s the source? And if it�s considered an investment, how is it earned back? From the tax-payers?� he voiced his disgust, adding that it is the tax-payers who always bear the brunt of such huge poll expenditures.

On the other hand, first-time voter Indrajeet Bhuyan, a student of Assam Don Bosco University, said that the source of the huge amount of money spent in the election is not made transparent to the public.

�Distribution of clothes, alcohol, money, etc, is a common practice during election days. All these prevent voters from using their own reason to take the right decision. I feel, both the ruling party and opposition parties should promote themselves through their work during their tenure and not before the election. Time before election should be given to the common people to evaluate their performance without any sort of manipulations and disturbance,� he opined.

According to the Assam Election Watch, there will be an expenditure of around Rs 3,150 crore of black money in this Assembly election, which will be used by these candidates for bribing voters through freebies like liquor, cash, etc, and for intimidation of voters for casting votes in their support.

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