The Centre’s move to pull Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes out of circulation is likely to boost the Election Commission’s efforts to end the chronic electoral malpractice of politicians bribing voters with illicit money.
The timing of the government’s announcement made poll panel officials all the more happy because five states, including politically-crucial Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, will be voting for new assemblies next year.
Since the commission has been taking stringent steps to check the use of illicit funds, political parties start mobilising money months before elections are announced so that it reaches the destination, former chief election commissioner SY Qureshi said on Wednesday.
“As elections are due in early 2017, the money must have begun to circulate already,” he said.
But a bribe of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes, even if distributed already, will be of little use now.
In Punjab, where political parties dub elections as a game of cash, the commission said the Centre’s move will squeeze the availability of cash because the new notes will be issued under strict RBI checks.
“It will make our job easier as new notes will not be available in such large numbers,” Punjab chief electoral officer VK Singh said.
In the 2012 Punjab elections, the commission seized Rs 12 crore along with narcotics meant for voters.
In politically-sensitive Uttar Pradesh with 403 assembly constituencies, Rs 37.46 crore was seized in 2012. That accounted for 72% of the cash confiscation in five states where elections were held.
“Money power plays a big role in elections here. Studies show distribution of cash among the people to influence the voting pattern is common in rural areas. Political parties use black money … Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes for the purpose,” said SK Dwivedi, a former professor of political science at Lucknow University.
Parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of four-time chief minister Mayawati are not worried.
“The Union government’s move will not affect us because the majority of our workers are poor. We run our campaign with small donations from our workers,” said BSP state unit president, Ramachal Rajbhar.
Congress leader Veerendra Madan held a similar view, saying the party does not rely on black money for its campaign and candidates spend within the poll panel’s prescribed limit.
But traders are not happy. Sellers of campaign material, already facing stiff competition from the digital medium such as Facebook and Twitter, feel their business will suffer.
“This move will break our business. Leaders usually pay us in Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes for campaign material such as banners, posters and flags,” said Rakesh Pandey, a shopkeeper in Lucknow.