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Lakshmi Subramanian
Lakshmi Subramanian

Money power

Jaya's constituency to see India's costliest bypoll

palanisami-campaign-rknagar-pti Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K. Palaniswami campaigning for the AIADMK candidate E. Madhusudhanan for the R.K. Nagar bypoll in Chennai | PTI

It is raining cash in R.K. Nagar, as parties flood the voters with cash for votes and the Election Commission also gears to show its might to curb the money distribution but at a cost of Rs 3 crore.

Popular MGR numbers in T.M. Soundarajan’s voice blare through the high-decibel speakers. The song is Naan Aanaiyittal. Athu nadanthu vital. Ingu ezhaigal vethanai pada matta (If I order and if it happens as per my order, the poor here will not worry.).

Two men are seen sipping tea, shaking their heads to the song, as a vehicle fitted with the speaker goes past them. An old man with folded hands, tells them, “vote for two leaves.” Minutes later, another vehicle crosses them and the speakers say Ungal votu udhayasooriyanukku (vote for Rising Sun). As the two vehicles pass through, another speaker blares, Makkal selvar annan T.T.V Dhinakaran. Ungal votu Cookarukku (please vote for the people's young man, T.T.V Dhinakaran). With just two days to go for the crucial R.K. Nagar bypoll, the last day of campaigning on Tuesday in the narrow lanes of the constituency is at its peak.

Campaigning will come to a close by Tuesday evening at R.K. Nagar, which is all set to go for elections on December 21. The constituency is now witnessing a three-corner fight between E. Madhusudhanan of the AIADMK, Marudhu Ganesh of the DMK and independent candidate T.T.V. Dhinakaran, while the BJP’s Karu Nagarajan and 100 other candidates too are in the fray.

The cancellation of the polls eight months ago in April has not deterred the candidates and the parties from distributing cash for votes in the constituency this time. The rate alone differs, but it is raining cash and kind for the R.K. Nagar voters for the second time in one year.

According to sources close to each of the camps, it is Rs 6,000 from Madhusudhanan for each vote and a cooker for women voters in the constituency from the Dhinakaran camp. While it has taken these 'cash for votes' claims to the Election Commission, asking it to curb money distribution in the constituency and disqualification of Madhusudhanan, even the DMK, sources claim, is planning for last-minute money distribution in the constituency.

As per a report released by anti-corruption NGO Arappor Iyakkam, the 'rates' in the constituency are Rs 7,000, Rs 6,000 and Rs 3,000 from Dhinakaran, AIADMK and DMK, respectively—thus adding to Rs 16,000 per vote.

On December 16, EC officials and the police flying squad seized at least Rs 25 lakh in cash from more than 15 places in the constituency. Workers of the AIADMK were arrested and vehicles too were seized. Cases were booked in seven police stations. But more than cash, it is the arithmetic and the math that parties are calculating for a massive mandate in the bypoll.

However the EC has now deployed around 2,500 security personnel and installed cameras in each ward to telecast the polling live on the EC website. These arrangements, according to highly informed sources in the EC, would cost Rs 3 crore. Normally, a bypoll would cost Rs.60 lakh.

“We have taken extra measures to curb money distribution in the next two days before the polling on December 21. We have deployed 21 All-India service officials as observers, returning officers, polling officials and security personnel, only to ensure a free and fair election,” says Vikram Batra, special chief electoral officer for R.K. Nagar.

Apart from this, the EC has also increased the number of flying squads from two per ward to three. There are seven wards in total, which means there are 21 flying squads to ensure there is no last-minute money distribution in the constituency.

Despite all these, the contest, according to political observes has now narrowed down as a tight race between DMK and Dhinakaran, even when the AIADMK has got back its two-leaves symbol and its candidate Madhusudhanan hails from the same constituency.

The constituency, which has over 2 lakh voters, might not vote in the same pattern as it did for Jayalalithaa for two reasons. One, a simple conversation with the fishermen community in the constituency, which has over 30,000 votes, seems to turn towards the opposition. The consequences of Cyclone Okchi in Kanyakumari and the state government failing to take immediate steps to rescue them seem to have caused a dent in AIADMK’s vote bank.

The other factor is the number of votes won by Jayalalithaa in 2016. She bagged 97,218 votes while DMK’s Shimla Muthuchozhan got 57,673 votes. Now, these 97,000 votes too might split between Madhusudhanan and Dhinakaran. Though R.K. Nagar is considered a AIADMK bastion, the split in votes is likely to give an edge for the DMK. On the other hand, two two recent surveys have predicted a victory for Dhinakaran.

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