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Cash for votes, again

india Updated: Nov 07, 2008 01:51 IST
Stavan Desai

"Press the button against the palm sign," says Mahendra Karma while handing over a few crisp hundred-rupee notes to a tribal woman at a village 35-odd km west of Naxal-affected Dantewada town. Other tribals look on in anticipation of being the next lucky ones.

<b1>Karma is a Congress leader contesting for a third term in the Chhattisgarh state assembly from Dantewada. He was campaigning in Behramgarh at a small gathering of tribals in a village that does not have a motorable road. The state goes to poll on November 14 and 20.

After completing his speech, where he promised roads, water, electricity and employment, he called one of the tribal women witnessing his speech and handed over a few hundred-rupee notes — an illegal inducement that can lead to his being barred from contesting elections under the Representation of People’s Act.

He soon realised he was being watched by the HT team and passed some instructions to the man who was carrying a bag, full of money, across his shoulder and quietly left. He refused to comment about distribution of money while campaigning for his candidature.

It was Karma who sold to the ruling BJP government the idea of an armed peoples’ movement to counter the Maoists. This later took the name and shape of Salwa Judum (Peace Mission in local Halbi dialect).

The Dantewada seat has become the hotbed of political activity during this year’s elections as it is one of the districts in the state worst hit by Naxal violence.

Dantewada is at the heart of the Maoists’ so-called Liberated Zone, a 10,240 sq km area in south Chhattisgarh. With the police in retreat, the brutal, unofficial but state-backed tribal militia Salwa Judum is the state’s answer to Naxalites.