IN A first, elections to Tamil Nadu’s Aravakurichi and Thanjavur Assembly constituencies had been cancelled in May over voters being “bribed”. As the seats see a re-poll, it’s not just the Election Commission that is making the candidates sweat, as the AIADMK’s Senthil Balaji is discovering.
As Balaji canvasses in Aravakurichi, which will see a repoll along with Thanjavur on November 19, the voters want him to give signed assurances to fulfill promises made during the election campaign.
Despite the large seizures of money that had led to the polls being cancelled in May, both the DMK and AIADMK are fielding the same candidates again. K C Palanisamy is the DMK candidate.
A former AIADMK minister who fell out of favour with Jayalalithaa and lost his Cabinet berth last year, Balaji is among the top-most candidates in the fray.
“Before the EC decided to postpone the elections, they had all come with currency bundles and coupons to bribe us. But this time, they have to do the bribing in a careful manner,” laughs B Ganesh, a schoolteacher.
Having attended a rally of Balaji at Thavittupalayam in Karur district on Sunday, he says, “After granting permission for sand mining in the past five years, Balaji is now promising action against sand miners and polluting industries. But when we demanded these promises in writing, he fled the scene.”
At a rally in Kolathupalayam later that evening, Balaji was leaving the venue after similarly promising to end sand mining and to shut down a local illegal juice factory when a crowd of over 200 people gathered around his vehicle.
They handed him a piece of paper containing all the promises he had made in his speech. The note added, “If I am elected, I will take immediate steps to ban sand mining in this region, also the illegal juice factory that extracts over 2 lakh litres of water. If I fail to fulfil these promises, I will resign from the elected post within six months.”
Even as Balaji got furious and AIADMK leaders tried to ensure that no one clicked photographs or videos of their leader in a quandary, the mob refused to move. “Don’t you believe my words? Why are you doing this to me?” Balaji finally demanded, insisting that he would meet Jayalalithaa and tell her about their problems.
The villagers point out that Balaji, along with Jayalalithaa herself, had promised to take action against sand miners during the 2011 campaign. He had also led protests against the sand mining barons in 2010.
“But after the AIADMK won the election, they granted permission for four sand mining quarries in this region, within a radius of 4 km. Since then, they have looted over Rs 3,000 crore worth of sand, destroying the Cauvery river,” says S Mugilan, an activist with the Cauvery Protection Movement who is fighting several cases against illegal mining mafia in Tamil Nadu.
The next morning at Pukazhur village, Balaji was again confronted by over 300 villagers seeking his signature on a pledge against sand mining.
When a flustered Balaji demanded to know if the villagers were asking the same of the DMK candidate, a woman in the crowd shouted, “He hasn’t visited us so far. We will demand the same if he visits us for votes.”
Balaji offered to read out the pledge written by the villagers. “You have to trust me, I will read it on the mike, no signature,” he said. But soon as he started reading it out aloud, villagers started leaving.
AIADMK spokesperson C R Sarswathi said she hadn’t received any complaints from the people. “I will be visiting Aravakurichi in two days for campaigning. Maybe then I will get to know about this,” she said.