Times of India
B V Shiva Shankar

Assembly elections are eight months away, but prospective candidates are already luring voters with freebies. Some MLAs and ticket aspirants reportedly offer gifts including televisions, packaged tours, picnics, and pilgrimages to constituents. Many are using the Ganesha festival, which falls on Wednesday, to offer gifts to voters. This comes even as the Supreme Court is hearing a petition which demands a ban on election freebies. 

“Normally, prospective candidates begin spending on gifts for voters a year before the announcement of elections,” said Trilochan Sastry, founder and trustee of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR). “The Election Commission of India (ECI) should take serious note of it and disqualify those found to be indulging in this practice. 

New laws should be brought in to curb the menace if need be.” Under current rules, election expenditure of a candidate in assembly elections is capped at Rs 40 lakh, but political parties and individuals splurge on gifts much before the announcement of elections so that spends do not come under the ECI’s scanner. 

Sastry said ECI must bring in a law that authorises election officers to consider money spent by candidates even before they file nomination papers. Less than 10 days ago, Yousuf Shariff alias KGF Babu, who contested MLC polls in June on a Congress ticket, in an advertisement in a daily, promised that he would distribute cheques of Rs 5,000 each to 50,000 households in Chickpet, the constituency where he plans to contest from. 

He has also promised a scholarship of Rs 5,000 each to 15,000 students in pre-university and above and offered to bear the cost of construction of houses for those residing in slums. The Karnataka unit of Congress served Babu a showcause notice. 

“Congress does not encourage such a practice. We’ll win the elections by highlighting the government’s failure and rampant corruption in administration,” said Saleem Ahmed, KPCC working president. But it’s not Babu alone. Representatives of a party reportedly distributed televisions to voters in KR Pete, represented by sports minister KC Narayana Gowda. 

A ticket aspirant in Srirangapatna is learnt to have distributed free Ganesha idols, while a prospective candidate in Mandya is organising a free trip to Dharmasthala. Last week, urban development minister Byrathi Basavaraj distributed saris and bagina to women in KR Puram constituency. “It is the custom observed during festivals and it has nothing to do with elections,” Basavaraj said. 

The distribution programme continued on Saturday and even BS Yediyurappa, BJP parliamentary board member and former chief minister, was present. Home minister Araga Jnanendra went a step ahead, gifting a silver coin to women in his Thirthahalli constituency in Shivamogga along with a sari and bagina. 

The gift was given for Varamahalakshmi Vratha and Ganesh Chaturthi festivals. Jnanendra also organised a mass celebration of Varamahalakshmi Vratha on Friday where about 3,000 women accepted the bagina. “This is a practice we follow every year during the festivals of Varamahalakshi and Gowri-Ganesa. There is nothing political about it,” said Jnanendra. Similar programmes were held in other constituencies including Bhadravathi and Shivamogga city as well. 

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