A cash-plus economy

In a shameful first, in 2016 TN Assembly elections, polling in two constituencies was put off due to the ‘pernicious effect of money power’, to quote the EC. In a telling indictment of the State’s political class for distributing money, the EC bemoaned that the ‘Election Commissioner has not to fold his hands and pray to God for divine inspiration to enable him to exercise his functions and to perform his duties or to look to any external authority for the grant of power to deal with the situation’.

Clearly, the authorities were at their wit’s end then and even more this time around. Be it a buy-poll or a big poll, this compulsory ritual of democracy has only become more and more brazen in the blatant play and display of hard cash. There is much talk about VVPAT – that is, voter verifiable paper audit trail – this elections in all the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies. No doubt, a crumb of comfort to clueless voters confronted by a ‘suspect’ EVM who can now see a receipt, if not take it home.

But the real paper that has to be trailed and tracked is the one printed by the presses of the Reserve Bank of India and makes its way to the doorsteps and pockets of voters with nary a trace. Strange how crisp currencies travel the length and breadth and reach the nooks and crannies of this very noisy State without so much as a rustle.

Tamilnadu has a rich culture and a cash-rich culture, too. In the last two decades, the history of TN polls is written on rupee notes. I-T, EC records and court cases are tell-tale inscriptions of this great tradition. The short public memory somehow stretches deep into time to recall the rates of the earlier polls. The politicos, for their part, have displayed great respect for this hoary, honourable heritage handed down as generations cross the voting 18-year age mark.

That is about history. Now some economics. TN has rewritten the rules of this dour subject. There are no profound theories being paraded about on job creation, deficits, GDP and sundry other gibberish. The politicos here are simple-minded folks who don’t agitate their brains with such lofty ideas and instead prefer a direct politico-to-people connect. Small wonder the State is a pioneer in freebies and cash-for-vote though ignorant intellectuals may call these bribes. What do they know? After all, the politicos feel the people’s pulse through ‘hand-to-hand’ contact, if you see what I mean, than the pundits preaching from posh pulpits.

As an extension, let’s move to the idea of welfare State. In TN, this translates into something like ‘if the fare is right, all is well’. For people, money matters and for the politicos, buried neck-deep in treasury, money is not a matter. No matter if it is public money. In fact, people justify c-for-v on this very count – that is, they are only getting back their own money. Really for a great bulk of the populace, if voting is a right, getting paid for their vote is a right as well, even though it is wrong in legal terms. But most voters are not lawmen but laymen.

Therefore, poll season marks the summit of socialist egalitarianism, a time when class conflicts fall apart and the haves and have-nots jostle cheek-by-jowl in a cordial atmosphere of give and take: giving away what was taken. Even Marx could not have conceived this kind of a wealth distribution system even if only once in five years.

TN people have engineered a new version of democracy. Such camaraderie with the voter is a quality displayed by all parties.The people must be praised for forging a unity amidst virulent opponents by bringing them to the same bargaining table. People power is at its peak as parties with an ear to the ground deal under the table to satisfy their one-time benefactor. I must add here that since all parties pay, cash addicted people are also, ironically, cash immune. Loyalty is not a guarantee. I must point out here that not all voters are commodities. The point is at this point, the democratic credo, ‘of the people, for the people, by the people’ reaches its high point. Catch the point?

Now to some practical but equally important aspects of TN poll syllabus. In money management strategy, the karai veshtis here are masters of the game and would give the major B-schools a run for their, er, money. Charts, graphs and PowerPoints fall flat before the earthy logic and native street smartness of our foul albeit flawless fund managers. First, announcement of poll date is irrelevant. For them, money rotation is a round-the-term ritual. Over the years, all parties have established impeccable monetary systems from grassroots upwards to the ivory towers.

Despite lateral leakages at every level, the gross dough plundered (GDP) is a huge volume. Much ahead of poll time itself, the centralised and decentralised cash management system would have ensured advance booking of voters. Official doles, too, of late, are made in cash or consumables. The model code, therefore, is an imaginary timeline. But demand will spike as polling day beckons.

Next we move on to logistics. Meticulous details of the voters list, families, locations are all available pre-poll. Moving cash under the eagle nose of the EC, though not very easy now, is not difficult either. The real problem for the flying squads is simply this: it is not hard to catch a politico or party with stashes of cash or when while distributing them, but it is near impossible to trap a voter who seeks out his due in small change. It is simple semantic inversion, if you get it. The voters are not given bribe. They are taking the bribe. That makes all the difference.

And, finally. Poll-time TN or rather of late all-time TN, has achieved what the Dravidian movement could not. This is a separate State, always in a state of liquidity (I do not mean the floods). TN stands apart from the rest of the country and throws a challenge to national financial watchdogs like the I-T Department, ED, RBI, etc.

While the PM, FM & Co wax eloquent on cashless economy, Tamilnadu is perennially flush with cash. I have often written in these columns that the mountains of black money here are enough to plug the fiscal deficit once and for all. And also that instead of straining to bring back Indian money held abroad, it makes sense first to bring money held in this south of ‘India’ into India. You can verify my paper trail.

Just before 2016 TN Assembly elections, Rs 576 crore of hard cash was seized from lorries. Pre-election, TN was India’s numero uno State with cash seizure of over Rs 100 crore. This does not include the aforesaid Rs 576 crore, the fate of which is forgotten. When demonetisation was announced in 2016 November, within days, even as people were scrambling for a single new note, a massive seizure of Rs 33.6 crore, and all in Rs 2,000 denomination, were made from a single premises. Once again, TN topped in cash seizures of new notes during this period of torment. Clearly, this ingenious State has been quick to establish a green channel with the only possible suppliers, namely, banks. The Modi government remained mute.

Post-J’s death and before her constituency RK Nagar by-elections I-T authorities recovered documents from a State Minister’s house that allegedly gave details of payments amounting to Rs 100 crore to voters. The BJP is that party’s partner now. TN, with all its scams from the bottom of graves to spectrums on sky, is the fountain-head as well as final resting place of most ill-gotten wealth, held largely as hard cash. Any haul is at best a tip of the iceberg. Now, that’s a tip off.

That the Congress is genetically corrupt needs no proof but Tamilnadu remaining scrutiny-proof even at a very minimum level is a spoof on BJP’s tall talk about clean governance and a cashless milieu.

As I write this, the current seizure totals around Rs 130 crore, topping the national charts so far, as usual. And this is primarily from the opponents like DMK, VCK, etc. One wonders what the tally will be if the EC were to turn their focus to the ally!

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Jawahar T R