Long queues of voters were visible when this correspondent reached the Dashmesh Public Secondary School in Mansa at around 4 pm, part of the Bathinda Lok Sabha constituency where polling was held on Thursday.
Bathinda is the scene of Punjab’s most keenly watched electoral contest between Harsimrat Kaur of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), daughter in law of chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and Raninder Singh of the Congress, the son of former chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh.
There were large numbers of people clustered around the booths set up by both the SAD and the Congress to guide voters to the right polling station. There were significantly more people hovering around the SAD booth.
A young man at the SAD booth asked me if I was a voter. Before I could reply, he went on: “Hurry, there’s little time left. Go that way and you’ll be paid. But don’t forget to carry your voter identity card.”
I obeyed. I saw a huge gathering outside a house with its large gates wide open. In the compound there was a man distributing Rs 200 to every person who showed his voter card. I asked and learnt he was Devinder Singh Dhillon, an Akali worker.
Many of those accepting the money had brought along the ID cards of their entire families. One claimed he had been promised Rs 1000 per card, and was feeling short changed. “I brought four cards and you’ve given me only Rs 500,” a woman loudly argued. “That’s not even Rs 150 per card.”
“I took Rs 800 by showing four cards, but inside the polling station I voted Congress,” said a fruit juice vendor standing nearby, refusing to reveal his identity.
“What can I do? This is the only way people can be persuaded to come out and vote,” said Dhillon, when I confronted him.
Suppose the Election Commission gets to know? “What is there to fear? It is our own government,” he said.
I returned to the polling station at the school and asked the security men posted there if they knew that people were being paid to vote. “We know, but unless we get a complaint, we cannot act,” one of them said. “There has been no complaint.”
I called the district deputy commissioner, who is also the returning officer, Kumar Rahul. Rahul enquired about the exact location of the school and the house, and promised to raid the premises. By then it was close to 5 pm, and no immediate raid followed.