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Curbing Clandestine Bribery Of Voters

EVEN though electioneering is yet to pick up in the state the law enforcement authorities are out to curb illegalities associated with elections. The police and the excise departments have seized liquor worth over Rs 2.5 crore since the model code of conduct came into force following the announcement of the elections to the two Lok Sabha seats in the state as well as three Assembly seats. The biggest seizure was in the Dhargalim village of Pernem taluka, of liquor worth over Rs 1.5 crore. It can be noted from the seizures just ahead of elections that the consignments were for distribution among voters to win them over in favour of a particular party or a candidate. There is an outside possibility that the liquor was to be transported to the neighbouring states for distribution among the voters there.  The quantities of the seized liquor have surprised the law enforcement officials. Why were such huge quantities of liquor stored when it was freely available in the state and that too at relatively cheaper rates?

The vigil maintained by officials has yielded results but they need to be extra vigilant to ensure that politicians do not use wrong means to influence voters and buy votes. Politicians try to influence voters with distribution of money and gifts and sponsorship of trips and tournaments. It is necessary that poll officials maintain extra vigil to curb malpractices and ensure that the elections were free and fair. With raids having been conducted on liquor storage facilities there is the possibility of candidates and political parties involved in malpractices changing their modus operandi. Election officials need to curb all types of wrongful means. They need to investigate ongoing sport tournaments, parties and other such events organized in different parts of the state to get to the sources of sponsorship.

It is surprising to note that despite seizures made in large quantities around the election time there have been no cases of politicians convicted for illegalities in the state so far. Now that huge seizures have been made it is necessary that the cases were taken to a logical end to serve as deterrence. During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections the state excise department had seized 158 bulk litres of illegal liquor in the Tiswadi taluka alone. The seizures were made in Miramar, Taleigao, Santa Cruz, Chimbel, St Estevam and Bambolim. Though 268 liquor related offences were registered with the Chief Electoral Officer during 2014, action was taken only against 27 offenders and not against any person contesting elections or any party that nominated the candidates. Liquor is a popular means to influence voters and win elections by keeping them in high spirit and many politicians prefer to use it. There have also been cases of cash, high-end sports shoes, electrical and electronic appliances, two-wheelers and mobile phones being distributed to influence voters but hardly any seizure has been made. There have been allegations that action against illegalities has been selective. Polls officials need to be fair in taking action against all involved in illegalities during the elections. However, the officials have to be careful in their pursuit as there have also been a number of cases of workers of politicians making baseless charges of illegalities by their opponents to divert the attention of poll officials and send them elsewhere and freely engage in illegalities themselves to woo voters.

Though action has been taken in cases of illegal hoarding of liquor, no cases of other violations, like sponsoring of tournaments, trips, parties, distribution of goodies, have been detected so far. As sponsorship of tournaments, parties and distribution of goodies are done clandestinely by friends and foot soldiers of candidates it would not be easy to trace it to candidates unless surveillance is increased and thorough check of accounts is made. The contractors and suppliers are paid well in advance by candidates to make arrangements, serve liquor, food, and do other things, keeping themselves in the background. The tracking has to be done rigorously. There are over 10,500 bars and equal number or more of restaurants in Goa; it would be nearly impossible to keep track on every one of them. However, selective action would prove deterrent. If action is not taken the bribery of voters by candidates would only grow unchecked. Of course, government agencies can prevent this from happening only up to a point. The real responsibility lies with the voters who should reject any enticement for casting their vote in favour of a particular candidate.

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