http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/...A-mixie-for-your-vote/articleshow/8003300.cms A minivan loaded with small TV sets pulls into a cluster of mud-floored huts just off a state highway near Chennai. The party cadres move around, knocking on doors and exhorting people to come to the van. As men, women, children and stray dogs crowd around the vehicle, a local leader, balanced on the van's running board starts talking about the government's achievements. His colleagues fan out among the crowd. "We are going to fulfil our election promise and give you a free TV," says the local leader. "But these people don't have electricity," a partyman shouts. "We will provide you electricity," responds the leader. "What about a free cable connection?" someone asks. "We will give you that too if you vote for us," assures the leader. It's all very theatrical, this is like a staged play in which the party speaks in two voices â€” its own and the people's. Then a party worker opens the van's door. Soon enough, every hut has a cardboard box containing a colour television. For the next few days, till polling day, the cadres returned to the hamlet to remind the people of their party's promises â€” electricity, cable TV, rice at Re 1 a kg. They reminded them of the party's election symbol. "It's an offer they can refuse only at their own peril. By accepting the TV, they have already given their consent to vote for the party. So, if they want electricity and cable, they have to keep their promise of voting for the ruling party," says a former Congress MP, whose party is in alliance with the ruling DMK. "You can't lower the price of rice further. The other party can only hike it. The DMK cadres have been reminding people of this threat. So, they have to deliver their part of the deal â€” their vote." Last week, social activist Anna Hazare said in an interview that the Indian voter is "not aware and he votes for a bottle of liquor or a sari and cash". There were howls of protest from the political class, accusing the Gandhian of "undermining democracy". In the past 61 years, while the Indian electorate has often shown its maturity by throwing out non-performing and corrupt governments, it's the political class that seems determined to reduce democracy to manipulation. Tamil Nadu is a case in point. In the run up to voting day, the two leading political parties â€” DMK and AIADMK â€” promised to provide colour television sets, ceiling fans, mixers or grinders to women, laptops to college students, four grams of gold to poor voters and cheap cable connections. The BJP also joined the freebies bandwagon. It offered stationery to students, sanitary napkins to women and Rs 1 lakh as a deposit for each female child born to in a below-poverty-line family. "It's more like a big, fat wedding in a feudal lord's house and less like an election in the world's biggest democracy. The poor get paid for their participation. Actually, they get all the gifts at the cost of democracy," says the former MP. But the freebie culture is not peculiar to Tamil Nadu; it's an all-India phenomenon. The nature of gifts changes from state to state depending on local culture and demographics. In poverty-ridden UP and Bihar, anything â€” cash, saris, blankets and frying pans â€” could do the trick. In relatively rich Punjab and Haryana, alcohol is used to sway the voter. Every time there is an election â€” local, state or national â€” in Punjab, Jarnail Singh, who drives a taxi in Delhi, makes it a point to visit his native Gurdaspur. He doesn't go there to vote but to claim his share of alcohol. "Neta to hamesha maza karte hain (politicians party all the time), but we get a chance to drink and eat for free and have fun only once in a while. Accha hai ki neta ki jeb se paisa nikalta hai (it's good that the money comes from the politician's pocket)," says the 63-year-old cabbie. Jarnail couldn't be more wrong. Freebies are paid for either with black money, which should have gone to the public exchequer or with taxpayer's hard-earned cash. In Tamil Nadu, since 2006, the DMK regime has purchased 15.3 million TV sets to give away as freebies, costing taxpayers Rs 400 crore. Of this, according to an RTI revelation, about Rs 80 crore had been diverted from state funds meant for lower caste welfare programmes. No prizes for guessing who's going to foot the bill for all the mixers, blenders and laptops. But the source of the money that pays for their freebies was not an election issue for Tamil Nadu's voters. In fact, it helped the party cadres justify corruption. Muthu, who runs a dosa eatery near a government office in central Delhi, works with DMK cadres in Tamil Nadu during the elections. For him, corruption is not an issue because "politicians make money to give it to people." Muthu rhetorically asks "how can they distribute so many things free without making money?" Back in Delhi after a month in his home state he reasons that it works out for everyone because "today people need TV and other domestic appliances and it doesn't matter where it comes from". While party cadres like Muthu can justify corruption and freebies, the country's top election officer, Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi has gone on record to say that his "office could do little to curb this trend as the parties had chosen the distribution of freebies as their election manifesto". But, with media reports about cash being distributed to voters, the commission has swung into action. Last week, an observer caught a truck carrying chicken for a biryani party organized by a candidate in Tamil Nadu. "Such ways to seduce the voters will not be encouraged," Quraishi said. So in this election, they will get TVs, mixies, fans and laptops. But Tamil Nadu's poorer voters will probably have to wait for chicken biryani till 2014, when the world's most populous democracy conducts the biggest election exercise on the planet.