TN sees 70% voting in 38 LS seats as poll fervour draws cine stars, boycotts, violence
Thiruvannamalai: Tamil Nadu’s political landscape has had tectonic shifts since the state last went to polls, the last one for both J Jayalalitha and M K Karunanidhi – arch rivals and larger-than-life political figures. The high stakes battle between the two biggest state parties – the DMK and AIADMK – and their national allies (the Congress and BJP, respectively), and a motley crew of splinter groups, powerful hyper-regional parties and splashy new political entrants, unfolded across 38 parliamentary constituencies (seven of which are reserved for scheduled castes) that went to polls in the second phase of the Lok Sabha polls.
The elections in Vellore was rescinded due to the seizure of unaccounted cash meant for distribution – a practice that is rampant and almost expected in TN politics – two days before polling. It was found at premises connected to senior DMK leader and party treasurer Duraimurugan, whose son Kathir Anand is contesting from this constituency. Not including Vellore, 66,699 polling stations were set up across the state; 936 of them were “model polling stations”. Further, election officials monitored polling in 30,000 ‘sensitive’ booths across the state from the control room at the Secretariat in Chennai through web-streaming.
Simultaneously with the Lok Sabha polls across the state, the long overdue assembly bye-elections were also held in 18 seats whose AIADMK MLAs were disqualified in 2017 after they defected to the splinter group under TTV Dinakaran and Sasikala. Their new party, the AMMK, fielded 12 of the disqualified legislators in their original constituencies and three others in the Lok Sabha ones. Apart from this, actor-turned politician Kamal Hassan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) is also in the fray, in addition to local parties like MDMK, NTK, VCK, PMK and DMDK.
At 9 pm, Tamil Nadu had recorded a voter turnout of 70.90 per cent in the Lok Sabha elections. The highest attendance was seen in Namakkal and the lowest in Chennai Central. The lone LS seat in Puducherry recorded 70.7 per cent. The Thattanchavadi Assembly segment in the Union Territory saw polling at 65.44 per cent while in the assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu, the polling percentage was 67.08. Polling was held till 6 pm everywhere in the state except Madurai where it went on till 8 pm due to Chithirai Festival. Over five lakh people from the southern districts are excepted to converge in Madurai for the festival which was expected to bring voter turnout down, hence the extended timings. Chitra Pournami festivities also clashed with polling in Tiruvannamalai district. Voters from within and outside the state struggled to get home as not many extra buses seem to have been arranged by the state to deal with the rush. Leaders like TTV Dinakaran raised complaints that there were no proper transport arrangements for people who live in the cities to move to their native homes to cast their votes. The EC distanced itself from this saying it was the state government’s responsibility.
In 2014, the AIADMK bagged 37 out of 39 LS seats from Tamil Nadu, making it the third largest party in the Parliament, after the Congress. But much has changed since then. There have been several high-voltage protests in the three years against the state and the Centre. From the agitation against the Sterlite Copper plant in Thoothukudi that ended in police firing and 13 deaths and the concerns over common medical entrance exam NEET, to farmer protests and the Centre’s stand on Jallikattu, the Tamil public has been vocal in their dissatisfaction with the government.
It is worth noting that the Tamil film industry has been churning out a slew of anti-establishment and political movies in the past couple of years, perhaps reflecting the sentiments of the viewing public. Cinema and politics have a close relationship in the state and movie stars headed to their nearest polling booths to demonstrate their faith in democracy. Actor turned politician Rajinikanth, his wife Lata, daughter Soundarya and son-in-law Dhanush, actors Ajith and his wife Shalini, Vijay (star of the movie Sarkar where he returns from abroad to exercise his franchise), Kamal Hassan and his daughter Shruti Hassan (who had to spend a long while in the queue at their booth in Alwarpet due to malfunctioning EVMs), Surya, Jyothika and Karthi, Siddarth, MDMK chief Vijayakanth and Congress spokesperson and former actor Kushboo were among those who cast their votes. Actor Sivakarthikeyan and comedian Robo Shankar complained that their names were omitted from the voter’s list. Sivakarthikeyan reportedly left the booth without casting his vote but was later able to do so after meeting the Returning Officer.
As has become the norm, EVM malfunctions and polling delays were reported in Kanyakumari, Ramanathapuram, Trichy, Erode, Thoothukudi, Nagercoil, Thiruvarur and Chennai. In some places, voters were waiting for nearly an hour. Polling had stopped in seven booths in Madurai North constituency following a suspicious AIADMK sticker pasted on the EVMs. In Cuddalore, one booth reported that the button against the AMMK candidate was not active. After three hours, the replacement machine arrived and voting continued. In another booth in the same constituency, voting had to be stopped after it was discovered that the mock poll votes hadn’t been erased. According to details released by Chief Election Officer, Satyabarta Sahoo, 305 EVMS had some technical errors and that had to be replaced while 525 VVPATS has also faced some issues.
Polling day also witnessed a string of boycotts from across the state – 2000 people from the villages of Venkatapuram and Nachiampayalam of Tirupur boycotted polls as the booths remained deserted. In Krishnagiri district, three villages abstained from voting as did 400 villagers of Kurangani, a hilly village in Theni. People of Perungadu, a tribal village in Kodaikanal, had indicated they would boycott polls due to the terrible state of their roads that remain unaddressed. However, polling resumed after officials pacified the voters. Villagers of Vilakulam had also held their votes hostage, demanding that the district administration hold talks regarding the merger of their area with the Manamadurai constituency.
Incidents of life, death and drama remained far and few between. In Madurai, clashes between AIADMK and AMMK men were reported, allegedly because campaigning was being carried out at the booth. In a separate incident, M S Pandian, a booth agent of AIADMK and son-in-law of AIADMK functionary VK Gurusamy was hacked to death near Cinthamani at Madurai. Preliminary investigation says the murder is due to a previous enmity. Videos emerged from Ariyalur of men, alleged PMK workers, vandalising the homes on which VCK’s pot symbol had been painted on. In Arakonnam, security forces had to fire in the air to disperse the fight between DMK and PMK workers.
While the EC had let down people with disabilities in some booths in Viruthunagar where no wheelchairs were available it had also, for the first time, arranged for 159 mentally challenged people in Kilpauk’s mental health care centre to vote. And heart-wrenchingly, an 85-year-old man voted for the first time in Maruthadu village in Thiruvannamalai district. A family of three generations, which includes his senior citizen, cast its vote for the first time after over 13 years of bonded labour as woodcutters until their rescue in 2017.
Meanwhile, at least ten newly-wed couples came to cast their votes in complete wedding attire. Two elderly men died in separate incidents in polling booths in Salem and Erode. And then there was a young man who tried to set himself ablaze near a polling booth in Dharmapuri, but stopped by locals. Drenched in kerosene, he raged at the camera pointed at him, expressing his anguish at the current democratic system. He was later rescued by the police.
With inputs from Mydeen Abdul Kadar and Swati Reddy