Election is war in India; and the political parties seem to adhere to the adage “all is fair in love and war” a little too seriously. Some political parties and their supporters are known to offer cash, drugs and liquor in exchange for votes; which just goes to show the extent candidates are willing to go in a country where hundreds of millions of voters still survive on a few dollars a day.
The Election Commission has set up highway check points to seize cash, gold, liquor and other high value items that political candidates avoid mentioning in their expenses because there is a limit on the amount each one is allowed to spend.
The dates for the election was announced on 10th March 2019, and, in little over a month, till April 15th, the election watchdog has seized has seized $ 369 million (roughly ₹ 2,570 crore) worth of cash, liquor, gold, drugs and other goods since then; which is more than double of the $ 172 million confiscated in the last election cycle in 2014, according to a Reuters report.
The worst hit states were Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, the National Capital Region of Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. A break-up of these seven states show that they contribute more than 80% of all seizures of illegal election goodies; with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat contributing in excess of 20% seizures; being the maximum.
Take the case of Gold for example, which is India’s favourite commodity. Smuggling of gold into the country via the grey market surged in India after the government raised the import duty to 10% in 2013, and further imposed a 3% sales tax on it in 2017. Therefore, gold would be smuggled into the country and sold in cash to avoid paying this 13% duty.
However, now, gold smugglers have slowed down their operations over worries that their shipments will be caught. Last month in Mumbai, in one of the biggest seizures since he election dates were announced, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence seized 107 kgs of gold, worth around ₹ 30 crore. This slowdown in smuggling has boosted gold imports at banks, who are now charging a premium. And this week, even in the cash market, gold was sold at market price.
Election season in India disrupts normal life in a big way, and considering we are the largest democracy, it would not be a stretch to say that it is the greatest show on earth.