Bribe charges again cast a shadow as Jayalalithaa's vacant seat RK Nagar readies for bypoll
The campaigning for the bypoll to fill the seat that was made vacant when the late chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalithaa, died on 6 December 2016, ended in RK Nagar on Tuesday.
The outcome of the bypolls, which will be held on 21 December, will decide whether the Edappadi K Palaniswami government, already reduced to a minority after the withdrawal of support by 18 MLAs, will stay or fall.
This is largely because the Opposition DMK and its allies, as well as the BJP, have projected it as a referendum on the Palaniswami government as it is the first election after the death of Jayalalithaa.
The by-election, originally fixed for April, was cancelled by the Election Commission on the grounds that no free and fair poll was possible because of the rampant use of money to induce voters.
The situation is no different now. Despite the best efforts by the Election Commission, the DMK and the rebel AIADMK TTV Dinakaran faction say over Rs 100 crore have been pumped into the constituency last weekend alone and AIADMK nominee E Madhusoodhanan should be disqualified from contest. The EC has no such power.
The special officer from the Election Commission, Vikram Batra, who reviewed the situation in the last few days and interacted with various parties in the field, has gone to New Delhi to brief the Chief Election Commissioner who will take the final call whether to go ahead with the polls.
The EC cannot rescind the polls as it did last time as it is under a directive from the Madras High Court to hold the polls by 31 December. Putting it off by 10 days will make hardly any difference.
As EC has told the Madras High Court on a petition filed by DMK candidate Marudhu Ganesh, it has taken extraordinary measures to check distribution of money to voters.
Fifteen companies of para-military personnel are deployed there in addition to local police, taking the total to over 2,000. As many as 161 surveillance teams, an all time high, are monitoring. Following complaints of collusion by police officials with the ruling AIADMK, the EC has transferred R Sudhakar, the Joint Commissioner of Police, North Chennai, under which R K Nagar falls.
With the end of the campaign, Chief Electoral Officer Rajesh Lakhoni has said no outsiders will be allowed into the constituency and marriage halls, lodges and community halls will be checked. Vehicle permits given to candidates and their star campaigns have ceased from this evening. No meetings will be allowed nor will campaign through television, FM radios and social media.
A multi-cornered contest
The seat will see a multi-cornered contest. The main contestants are AIADMK presidium chairman E Madhusoodhanan, rebel AIADMK candidate Dinakaran, DMK’s Marudhu Ganesh and Karu Nagarajan of the BJP.
Dinakaran sought to contest from there on the 'Hat' symbol as a representative of the AIADMK Amma faction last April. Since then, the Palaniswami and Panneerselvam factions have to come together and regained the 'Two Leaves' symbol under which Madhusoodhanan will be contesting now. Dinakaran has been allotted 'Pressure Cooker'.
In 2016, Jayalalithaa got 90,000 votes against 50,000 got by her nearest DMK rival. The DMK’s organising secretary RS Bharathi, who was instrumental in moving court to get over 45,000 bogus voters deleted from the list, says the DMK has a clear edge as Jaya is no longer around and the AIADMK is divided.
State BJP secretary Tamizhai Sundararajan alleges there is a secret understanding between the DMK and Dinakaran. She has warned: ”The DMK is helping Dinakaran to win in the hope that he will be a challenge to the AIADMK Government. That is a dangerous miscalculation”.
New Governor Banwarilal Purohit, who is actively touring the districts, is waiting to take over should the present government fall. That would happen when the Madras High Court decides on the fate of 18 pro-Dinakaran MLAs whom the Speaker has disqualified to save the Government. The court has said the seats should not be declared vacant and no floor test should be held until it takes a decision. The future of the government depends on the court decision.