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BENGALURU: The buzzword in Karnataka’s political corridors on Monday was “Yeshtu?”
Well, ‘yeshtu’ in Kannada means “How much?” If all politicians and their minions were asking, on the one hand, how many seats each party would win, with election results on Tuesday, the underpinning meaning of ‘yeshtu’ was, “how much did you have to spend for polls?”
In fact, the netas were more curious to know from each other how much they ended up spending, than actually speculating on Tuesday’s outcome. It stems from the fact that the Karnataka-2018 election has been a high-stakes battle, as a few candidates have reportedly spent around Rs 40-50 crore in their respective constituencies. The amount dwarfs the Rs 28 lakh per candidate ceiling fixed by the Election Commission (EC). What’s more baffling is that the big spenders are from all three major political parties.
A Congress candidate from Old Mysuru region summed it up for TOI: “This election has been like a hundi (offering box), we have been putting in all our money, hoping the voters, who are like Gods, will favour us. The election results will also give us a picture of who has become poor and by how much.” The offerings include freebies distributed among voters, and cash paid to second-rung and third-rung leaders in the constituencies. “The next big factor after caste was cash in these polls, it was systematically sourced and routed, despite hawk-eyed vigil by EC and income tax officials,” the Congress leader said.
THE THREE CATEGORIES
Informally, netas have categorized constituencies in three slabs, depending on spending compulsions: While an A-category constituency is one where a candidate spent Rs 25 crore upwards, in B-category the spend was Rs 10-20 crore, and C-category Rs 5-8 crore. Most of the A-category constituencies are in the periphery of Bengaluru.
In fact, many candidates started spending even before they were given tickets. A few sitting ministers and MLAs began eight months ahead by organizing badootas (grand feasts), buying leaders from opposite camps and pampering their supporters. A JD(S) leader said: “Calculate the cost of organizing a non-vegetarian feast for around 5,000 people. We have hosted at least seven such feasts across the constituency in the run-up to the polls, now imagine the food bill.”
This apart, candidates have renovated temples and upgraded masjids and churches. While a sitting MLA from Bengaluru spent around Rs 8 crore to give a granite facelift to a temple, another spent Rs 4 crore to renovate two masjids. In Vijayapura district, an influential leader distributed goodies multiple times to voters.
But the dynamics changed after the election dates were announced. “Each assembly segment has around 250 polling booths and each booth has a committee comprising 10-15 members and headed by a chairman. It takes Rs 30,000-50,000 per day to maintain a booth committee, whose members are expected to visit all houses, soliciting votes. Outflow of cash increased as the campaign started,” sources said.
The expenditure mounted in constituencies where there was a straight fight. “Purchasing leaders or neutralizing rivals is where most of the money has been spent. In fact, gram panchayat members in South Karnataka demanded anywhere between Rs 2lakh to Rs 5lakh for their support. A few second-rung leaders demanded that candidates upgrade their sedans to SUVs,” a BJP leader said.
Unlike the last election, where the base price of a vote was Rs 1,000, the amount shot up in 2018 and netas attributed it to demonetization. “This pushed up the cost of purchasable votes as people started expecting a Rs 2,000 note in exchange for their vote,” a BJP candidate in Kolar district said.