Despite the Election Commission’s (EC) claims of having ensured clean and fair polling, mid-day discovered that cash was still the deciding factor for votes at slum dwellings in the city, even in the upmarket Koregaon Park area.
In spite of the polling booth being situated just 100 metres away, hardly any voters from Gadge Maharaj wasti and Rajiv Gandhi wasti had voted by 12.30 pm yesterday. Some political workers said they were waiting for offers of cash, while others said that it was normal for the slum residents to vote late in the day.
Yesterday, this reporter accompanied a local political worker on his rounds in the two main slum developments there - Gadge Maharaj wasti and Rajiv Gandhi wasti, and spoke to voters anonymously. Even at 12.30 in the afternoon, hardly any voters had turned up at the polling booth situated in the local school just 100 metres away, but could be seen huddled in large groups around political leaders and party workers. What were they doing? They were waiting for a “better deal”, this reporter realised after speaking to a few of them.
Most seemed to be biding time, making barely-veiled demands for cash from political workers before they cast their votes, while other opportunistic voters were more blatant. During ‘negotiations’ with one such voter, he said he had not voted yet because he was waiting for an offer of cash, and even assured us that he would vote for “our party” if we offered something in return. “I just want Rs 1,000 to buy some alcohol in the evening, and tomorrow as well,” he said. He wasn’t as open when it came to revealing his identity however, and refused to divulge his name.
Koregaon Park, and the slum dwellings in the area fall under the Cantonment constituency, where such practices can be seen every election, according to sources. The political worker whom this reporter was accompanying, said, “It’s business as usual during every election here. However, due to some constraints, I can’t offer money. So I have to depend on the votes of the few people whom I keep in touch with regularly.”
But it seemed like even those voters he was counting on would not make it easy for him. Several showed him their fingers, as yet unmarked with the ink stain from voting, suggesting that they were still waiting. Others were calling him home for “tea”.
On the other hand, Congress leader Sangita Tiwari, who was present outside the slum area, said it was quite normal for the polling booths there to have slow response in the first half of the day. “Normally these residents prefer to vote in the evening. During the Lok Sabha elections, there was several complication during polling, but this time no one should face any issues, as most of the voters have received voting slips,” she added.
Note for vote
On a related note, Sudhir Dhawde, city president of Maharashtra Navnirman Vidyarthi Sena (MNVS) alleged that many party workers used these very voter slips to distribute cash to the voters on the sly. “Party workers were distributing voting slips attached with Rs 500 notes, one note per vote in the family. Many residents were not even aware that they were receiving money which they had not asked for,” said Dhawde, whose team had caught four people using this modus operandi in the Sainath slum in Kothrud on Tuesday.
“They were distributing money in broad daylight, and even after we caught them and handed them over to the police, other workers supporting the same candidate continued to distribute money throughout the night and even in the morning today,” he added.
The tone at the slums truly was business as usual, during polling hours yesterday, as mid-day spoke anonymously to local residents, one of whom was quite brazen in his demand for cash. The following is an excerpt from the conversation this reporter had with him (mid-day has a recording):
Q. mid-day – Did you cast your vote?
A. Voter – Not yet. Till now, no one has offered anything. We have not received a single paisa.
Q. mid-day – Whom are you expecting offers from?
A. Voter – Compared to others *** (name of the candidate withheld) can offer more cash. But if you offer me something, I would definitely give my vote to your party.
Q. mid-day –What proof will I have that you will vote for my candidate?
A. Voter – The last time (Lok Sabha polls) I clicked a selfie at the ballot box, showing which button I was pressing.
Q. mid-day – What kind of offers are you expecting?
A. Voter – See, I don’t expect much. Just R1,000, so that I can buy some booze in the evening, and tomorrow as well. We are a family of four.
Q. mid-day – What is your name?
A. Voter – Just refer to me as the man with two brothers in the armed forces.