Holy place, unholy polls

The irony is striking and sickening. Srirangam, for the devout, is Buloga Vaikundam, the Lord’s abode on earth. Periyar’s parivar in their prime, for their part, wanted to blast it with a cannon, making Srirangam the key target of their ideological, iconoclastic ire. But here’s also where believers and atheists alike now stand united on one ‘count’.

Srirangam, this central point of raging religiosity and rabid rationalism, coincidentally located in the geographical middle of TN, is sadly today also the cynosure of all that is unholy with our bristling democracy. The novel albeit notorious electoral malpractices that made an inauspicious beginning in the most auspicious sounding Thirumangalam six years ago have attained complete salvation, samadhi or moksha, in the land of Lords’s lotus feet! Or achieved rational bliss in Periarites’ pet platform, if you like.

The by-polls, buy-polls really, is the biopsy proof of the malignant milieu of modern TN which now resembles a wholesome tumour. I cannot point fingers at any political party. How can I, an ordinary armchair scribe or for that matter, you, mute spectators, gather evidence from this distance when even the various ‘vigilant’, on-the-spot agents of law like electoral officers, cops and sundry governmental draftees find nothing amiss? So, no inducements in cash or kind, no dhoti-saree packets, no free mobile-top ups, no liquor or biriyanis, no Kamakshi lamps either. Roaming midnight mannas are just rumours, stupid! The last minute transfer of the electoral in-charge there was routine, again!

Still, we all know. Truth does not always leave a terrestrial trail. It can only be tracked down by a detached observation of trends. That a ruling party has never lost a by-poll in the last decade or more is no coincidence and instead a clinching indictment. Also, it is not that the fraudulent tactics alluded to above leave no tell-tale traces. There are. But those vested with the job of scouting them out never do, for whatever reasons. But importantly, politicos have adapted fast to the changing electoral mechanics. The trick to survival is to trump the system from the inside, cautious not to trip into any traps. Their oft trumpeted theme, ‘parinama valarchi’, (gradual evolution) is best evident in only the unscrupulous traits. What is really a trial for us is touted as a triumph by them.

Small wonder, from T’Mangalam to S’rangam, TN parties have come a long way. No doubt the voting on Friday the 13th was largely above board, both in terms of percentages and perfection of arrangements. But then gone are the days of booth capturing and stuffed ballot boxes. Free and fair polling may be a fact but polls here have increasingly turned foul and farcical. That is because all the practices that are shunned by law in poll time are perpetrated much ahead! Why would not voters turn up in large numbers when almost every family in the constituency is a visible beneficiary, not of any lofty macro scheme, but of dubious, direct doles delivered at doorsteps pre-dawn? That there will be by-polls was clear five-months back. The kicking off of the model code is akin to locking the stables after the political horses have gone and grazed long. They are now just awaiting the free riders’ gratitude to kick in at the EVMs!

Voters governed by a clear conscience need take no offence, even if they have received mixies and grinders. But imagine a poor family whose next meal is uncertain and who form the bulk of the voting populace. The parties of TN, with unlimited ill-gotten resources and thriving on a well entrenched, self-serving patronage hierarchy, have no problem in extending their sleaze web to these poor but vulnerable homes. Now, can a deprived lot resist or reject the unsolicited reward? And since they know the giver, now to whom do they owe their conscience call? Can we blame them for subjecting their voting right to the donor’s might? Can they ignore the physical threat or the emotional blackmail? Or the ignominy of imposed indebtedness? Aah, what to say of the stupidity of this very rational, self-respecting State’s citizens in getting bribed by their own money!

Other factors apart, Kejriwal’s primary vehicle to power was his package of pompous promises. Here in pioneering TN, such populism is long passe. Personalised pampering and perverted profit-sharing has been practised to precision presently. Srirangam is just a warm-up. The real dole deluge will be unleashed soon enough. 2016 polls will be a free-for-all fight to finish.

Next Feb 14 we voters will be much wooed Valentines with gifts galore. There would be enough booty in the political kitty to pay for all our indulgences. Make a wish list. It’s all ours anyway!

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Jawahar T R