M Mohan, an errand boy in a startup in Chennai's Guindy area, is a happy guy since Monday. "We are a six-member family. We have got Rs 2,000 each for our votes." Mohan spells out the name of the party (MyNation is not carrying the name of the party because the reporter couldn't independently verify the claim) and says Rs 12,000 has been given to their family and a 'promise' taken from them to vote for the party.

Mohan says his entire neighbourhood, in Chennai's Jafferkhanpet, has been plied with money since Monday. Mohan reckons his locality, mostly comprising lower-middle class and middle class houses spread around 15-odd streets, would have at least 2,000 voters. 

Mohan says last time they got money from another party too.

So he is still hopeful of more money coming his family's way.

Also read: How income tax sleuths trapped Durai Murugan and his son in Tamil Nadu

Do your math then. A total of Rs 40 lakh is unlocked by a single party in a single locality on a single day.

So imagine the total amount that is likely to be pumped in by the various parties, usually on the last two days before elections.

Mohan is not worried about getting money from two or more parties. "At the end of the day, they cannot cross-check who I vote for. They have to believe me. There is no other way." He says the party that spends the most usually wins. "It is that simple."

You don't have to be a nosey reporter to find out that money is being exchanged. If you walk into any locality, especially in smaller towns, and without raising any suspicion if you slip into any of the quiet side streets, you can see furtive movements of nondescript people, and with one glance you will figure out that democracy is being sold rather casually.

Almost all major parties are guilty of trusting money power in these parts. But the bulk of the blame should squarely fall on the AIADMK and DMK, the two Dravidian parties having pioneered the art of bribing voters rather nonchalantly. The newly-floated TTV Dinakaran's AMMK has also joined this bandwagon.

Also read — First election without Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi: Most Tamil Nadu leaders unimpressive in campaign

If you consider all those, the calling off of the polls in Vellore on Tuesday and the income tax searches in Tuticorin at Kanimozhi's place are not exactly surprising.

If anything, after the seizure of large sacks and boxes of money with the names of who it was meant for clearly mentioned, the DMK candidate Kathir Anand deserves to be disqualified. By cancelling the election in the constituency, the Election Commission has put the other candidates in a strange fix — they are happy that Anand is exposed. But they are unhappy that they have to spend money on the elections again. 

Understandably, a miffed AIADMK candidate in Vellore, AC Shanmugam, has moved the courts on Wednesday.

In Tuticorin, Kanimozhi has been claiming that the government is using the income tax department to put her off. While it is fact that nothing has been shown to be seized from her place on Tuesday, nobody is going to believe that the DMK is not pumping in money at Tuticorin.

This reporter who was in Tuticorin sometime back could see money power at its peak during the campaign. But not just in Tuticorin, in almost all constituencies across the state, moolah was the key. 

"It is an open secret now. We saw it in the 2016 Assembly elections. We stood a witness to it in RK Nagar in 2017. This poll is no different," said a senior journalist in Chennai.

"In fact there is a case for countermanding polls all across the state. Bribing is that blatant," he says.

The Election Commission has so far unearthed roughly around Rs 175 crore during its check-ups. Some gold and ornaments have also been recovered. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The Election Commission is hamstrung by lack of resources and time. On Tuesday, in Andipatti, police had to fire in the air to disperse AMMK men who were trying to prevent a raid on their premises. Cash over Rs 1 crore was seized, again, they were clearly marked with the details of where it was going to.

The onus is on political parties, but none of them, except Kamal Haasan's Makkal Neethi Maiam, is even speaking about the issue of bribing the voters. Haasan in fact has also told the electorate that the problem of corruption stems from the fact of people 'selling' their votes. The other parties have not voiced anything much on that.

Anyway, on Thursday, the elections will be held, the media will celebrate the 'dance of democracy', and when the results are announced, pundits will praise the party that wins for running a smart campaign and also getting the poll arithmetic right.

"It is all, pardon my French, bullshit. The party that pays is the one that wins. The rest are mostly alibis," says the journalist.