The twists and turns in Chennai's R K Nagar by-polls

Last Updated: Tue, Apr 11, 2017 15:16 hrs
Several injured as clash breaks out between Sasikala, OPS camps in TN

The much awaited by-polls in R.K Nagar constituency, left vacant after the demise of Jayalalithaa was cancelled by the Election Commission on Sunday. The voting was scheduled to take place on 12th April would have decided the future of the two factions of the AIADMK – one led by O.Paneerselvam and the other led by Sasikala and her nephew TTV Dinakaran who was fielded as the candidate. In a detailed order, the Election Commission stressed that given the sensitive nature of these elections, the number of flying squads to enforce the model code of conduct was increased. 35 FIRs were registered against persons who were found to be distributing cash, silver lamps, and other household articles. However, in the end, it was decided that a free and fair election could not take place under these circumstances. The EC minced no words about the alleged corruption. An excerpt from their order -

The innovative ways which the political parties and their leaders at the top echelons have devised to bypass the law enforcing authorities entrusted with the task of keeping an eye on the unauthorized and illegal expenses incurred in the conduct of election campaigns of their party candidates need to be dealt with heavy hand. Some of the States have particularly excelled in innovating more and more subtle ways to circumvent the statutory provisions enacted by Parliament to curb the menace of money power in elections.

According to this report by Deccan Chronicle, the Income Tax Department raids on Health Minister Vijayabhaskar and his associates (with the TTV Dinakaran faction), uncovered documents in which seven ministers of the AIADMK currently in power were put in charge of distributing money in different locations within RK Nagar. Almost Rs.4000 per voter has believed to have been given.

While Rs 13.13 crore was listed against Sengottaiyan with 37 booths for him to handle, CM has 38 booths with 13.27 crore listed against him. A sum Rs 11.13 crore is listed against Vaithiyalingam with 33 booths, while Srinvasan had 36 booths to take care and Rs 12.83 crore is listed against him. The documents showed Rs 12.67 crore listed against P. Thangamani him and 37 booths are given to him for handling. S. P. Velumani has 42 booths and Rs 14.91 crore listed against him while Jayakumar had 33 booths with Rs 11.68 crore listed against him.

Raids were also conducted in the residence of actor Sharath Kumar who heads his own political outfit and pledged his support to TTV Dinakaran.

During the press meet held after the raids, Kumar claimed that he had just arrived the night before from a film shoot. He believed that the raids were a part of a political conspiracy to prevent him from campaigning for TTV Dinakaran and that he did not know what prompted IT officials to believe that there was cash in the house.

Right from the beginning the campaign has been filled with twists and turns. Even as the EC froze the two leaves symbol of the AIADMK and allotted the hat and an electric pole to the two factions, reports suggested that the OPS faction designed the electric pole to resemble two leaves. TTV Dinakaran also continued to use the two leaves symbol in their social media campaigns. The EC issued notices to both factions, calling their actions unlawful.

BJP reacted positively saying that the EC was right to cancel the elections. Their candidate for the constituency was music director Gangai Amaren. Maalai Malar reported that BJP state leader Dr.Tamilisai Soundarajan welcomed the EC decision although expressing dismay at the fact that it could have been done earlier. A lot of manual effort and resources have been wasted, she said. The BJP believed that RK Nagar serves as an example for why the law on bribing voters needs to be reviewed.

The Congress took the opportunity to attack the BJP.

DMK leader M.K Stalin demanded that the Election Commission initiate a CBI enquiry on the ministers, including Chief Minister, whose names appeared in documents uncovered during the IT raids.

He also said that the EC’s failure to prevent cash for votes tests people’s belief on democracy.

Deepa Jayakumar, Jayalalithaa’s niece, who stood as an independent said that had the election not been cancelled, she would have won the election by a large difference.

OPS’s reaction was much tamer as he simply told the Puthiya Thalaimurai that the EC decided to cancel the election to ensure that cash is not given to voters.

TTV Dinakaran, on the other hand, said that the decision was politically motivated.

According to the Live Mint, the cancellation of the elections means that the political chaos within the state continues and that in the end the biggest loser is the current ADMK faction in power.

Analysts had earlier said that the AIADMK faction that won the byelection would be in a position to either lead the party unchallenged or bring it together. Now, the general view is that the delayed election would be double-edged sword for the AIADMK Amma faction. Though it gives it time to consolidate its grip over the party, it will be hard-pressed to shake off the embarrassment.

As Minister Vijayabhaskar faces the heat on questions regarding the money, how will AIADMK emerge when the elections are finally held. The political drama continues.

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