India's election watchdog seizes record $557m of alleged illicit cash ahead of polls

Political parties are often accused of enticing voters with money and other perks

The Election Commission of India recovered $420 million worth of money and goods to lure voters during the entire election period in 2019. AFP
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The Election Commission of India (ECI) seized a record 46.5 billion rupees ($557 million) of suspected bribes, days before the first round of the national polls.

The constitutional body responsible for conducting polls in the country on Monday said it made the “highest ever seizures of inducements recorded in the 75-year history of Lok Sabha elections".

India will oversee a seven-phase election for membership of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, with polling starting on Friday. The results will be announced on June 4.

Political parties in India, which has a significant underprivileged and illiterate population, are often suspected of enticing voters with cash and gifts to vote for them.

“Enforcement agencies have made a record seizure of over 46.5 billion rupees in ECI’s resolute fight against money power even before the first phase of polling for the 18th Lok Sabha elections,” the ECI said in a statement.

About 45 per cent of the total amount seized was in the form of narcotics. The ECI has seized one billion rupees on average every day since March 1. It recovered 34.7 billion rupees' worth during the entire election period in 2019.

Indian laws bar political parties and politician from paying voters or using inducement or coercion to win over parts of the electorate.

But the world's largest election remains the costliest given its scale, with political parties spending billions of rupees to reach out the voters through mass rallies, advertisements and sometimes gifts.

The ECI said the seizures were part of its resolve to curb electoral malpractice and to ensure free and fair elections.

“The seizures have been possible by comprehensive planning, scaled-up collaboration and unified deterrence action from agencies, proactive citizen participation and optimal engagement of technology," the ECI added.

“Use of black money, over and above political financing and accurate disclosure thereof, may disturb the level playing field in favour of more resourceful parties or candidates in specific geographies.”

India’s Supreme Court is hearing challenges against the practice of distributing free items during election campaigns that critics say amounts to bribery to unfairly influence voters.

Voters will cast their ballots in 102 constituencies across 21 states and federally ruled territories in the first of phase of the election.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party are seeking a third five-year term in government. Their main challenger is the multi-party India alliance, which includes the Indian National Congress.

Updated: April 15, 2024, 1:51 PM