The second tranche of American diplomatic cables published by The Hindu today in collaboration with Wikileaks, throws light on how newspapers—yes—have become a delivery vehicle for politicians and parties to deliver cash to voters at the time of elections.
The paper quotes from a cable sent by Frederick J. Kaplan, acting principal officer of the US consulate-general in Madras, to the State department, after meeting M. Puttarajan, an aide of Union chemicals and fertilisers minister M.K. Azhagiri, son of the Tamil Nadu chief M. Karunanidhi:
“In an instructive and entertaining section titled ‘Can I get another morning paper?’ Kaplan explained the modus operandi for cash distribution adopted by the DMK in Thirumangalam: “Rather than using the traditional practice of handing cash to voters in the middle of the night, in Thirumangalam, the DMK distributed money to every person on the voting roll in envelopes inserted in their morning newspapers.
“In addition to the money, the envelopes contained the DMK ‘voting slip’ which instructed the recipient for whom they should vote.” This, Kaplan noted, “forced everyone to receive the bribe.” Patturajan , he wrote, “confirmed the newspaper distribution method of handing out money, but questioned its efficiency. He [Patturajan] pointed out that giving bribes every voter wasted money on committed anti-DMK voters, but conceded that it was an effective way to ensure the cash reached every potential persuadable voter”.
The Kaplan cable reports that Patturajan expected difficulties in replicating the Thirumangalam model in the 2009 parliamentary election because the Lok Sabha constituency was seven times the size of the Assembly seat.
According to the cable:
“Azhagiri has been forced to ratchet the payment back down to more typical levels, but he still plans on giving it to every voter through the newspaper distribution method.”
Little wonder every politician and political party wants to start a newspaper?
Cartoon: courtesy Keshav/ The Hindu