Almost all political parties of Punjab call elections a game of cash. Each had asked the chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi during his recent visit to the state to curb use of “money and muscle power”.
But the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes by the Narendra Modi government barely a few months before the high-octane elections in Punjab will hit them where it hurts the most — old notes are no good for votes in polls early next year!
And the EC is smiling. “We are happy with the development. It will squeeze the availability of cash as the issue of new notes will be regulated by the RBI. It will make our job easier as new currency notes will not be available in such large numbers,” Punjab chief electoral officer VK Singh said.
It is no secret that being cash-rich is an added qualification for Punjab candidates. Those fielded by both the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Congress in the last few elections have been moneybags — from liquor barons to realtors. In fact, they are appointed as party treasurers.
The SAD has realtor NK Sharma as its treasurer and Congress earlier had MLA Amrik Dhillon who has stakes in state’s flourishing liquor business. Then there are candidates who hail from affluent political dynasties.
In the 2012 Punjab elections, the cash seizures at the check posts and flying squads of EC amounted to Rs 12 crore. In Uttar Pradesh, which goes to polls with Punjab, Rs 37.46 crore was seized in 2012 accounting for 72% of the total cash seizures of five states where polls were held.
But Punjab topped the chart in drug seizures as huge quantities of smack, opium and poppy husk were recovered, forcing the then chief election commissioner SY Quraishi to sound former PM Manmohan Singh about it. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Rs 14 crore was seized in Punjab.
Punjab Congress chief Captain Amarinder Singh had accused the ruling Akalis of using cops to distribute cash in their vans in the 2012 state polls. The ruling Badal family rebel Manpreet Badal had blamed his going for a duck to not having “money power”.
Some Congress supporters took to the social media to take potshots at the ruling SAD on demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes. One such tweet described it as Modi’s surgical strike against the Badals, another asked, “What will happen to truckloads of cash the Akalis have stashed for elections”. The second was re-tweeted by “Punjab Da Captain” team and the Punjab Pradesh Punjab Congress Committee (PPCC).
As far as the impact of the move on the Punjab elections is concerned, Amarinder said the Congress had no cause for concern. “It was the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that needed to worry. While Badals stand to lose thousands of crores of rupees of their black money as a result of the demonetisation, Kejriwal would end up losing hundreds of crores,” he said in a statement.
According to the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) — a non-political group aiming at governmental and electoral reforms — political parties receive 75% of their cash from unknown sources. Neither the expenditure declared by the parties nor assets declared by candidates reflect the affluence.
The ADR, after dipping into affidavits filed by candidates contesting elections — Lok Sabha as well as assembly in Punjab since 2006 to 2014 — had stated that the average assets of 264 Congress candidates was Rs 8.35 crore; that of 52 BJP candidates Rs 8.55 crore; of 213 Akali nominees Rs 7.45 crore and of 14 Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidates Rs 3.81 crore. What does not add up is the figure of all parties is less than Rs 12 crore seized by the EC in the 2012 polls.