Victory or defeat is a concomitant of any election. Like the old saying that all is fair in love and war, certain political parties have made everything fair in elections also.
In Tamil Nadu, victory or defeat is scripted by the quantum of cash paid to the voters and promise of freebies made by the competing parties. The AIADMK led by Jayalalitha, by waiting till all other parties had published their election manifestos, presented a far more impressive offer document just 10 days before polling date.
The voter does not always realise that it is the tax payer&’s money that goes into payment of freebies. In a state already reeling under a debt of Rs 4 lakh crore, the freebies promised in the AIADMK manifesto will cost Rs 50,000 crore annually, adding Rs. 2.5 lakh crore more to the debt burden in the next five years.
It is no mean achievement that Jayalalitha was able to defy the existing practice of people voting out the ruling party every five years and win a consecutive second term with 134 seats, 16 more than the halfway mark, in the 234-member Assembly in spite of a two per cent decline in her AIADMK&’s vote share.
One should not ignore the fact that 60 per cent of the electorate voted against the AIADMK. Jayalalitha&’s is thus victory by default. In this election the southern-most district of Kanniyakumari stands out as a shining example. The only district with cent per cent literacy, freebies and cash for votes are frowned upon by its people.
The AIADMK could not win a single seat in the district. The Election Commission draws its mandate to conduct free and fair election from the Constitution of India and it is the sacred duty of the Election Commissioners to ensure a level playing field in the election so that honest and competent political leadership can emerge in the country.
The constitutional scheme of things does not permit free distribution of goods and services mentioned in the AIADMK election manifesto.
Public spending on these goods and services far outweighs any public benefit that might arise from such distribution. Utilising public funds for such distribution not only violates Article 162, 266(3) and 282 of the Constitution, but also falls foul of Article 14 since there is no reasonable classification.
The right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution requires that the state must make a reasonable classification based on intelligible differentia and must have a nexus with the object of the law. The promise of distribution of non-essential commodities in the AIADMK election manifesto amounts to bribe under Section 123 of the Representation of the People Act.
The Constitution under Article 324 mandates the Election Commission to conduct elections to Parliament and state legislatures. Having due regard to this mandate, the Supreme Court has laid down certain guidelines for the political parties to abide by. Most important among them is avoidance of making promises which are “likely to vitiate the purity of the election process or exert undue influence on the voters in exercising their franchise.” The ECI has failed to implement it in letter and spirit in Tamil Nadu and Jayalalitha won a consecutive second term.