As the ruling AIADMK and main rival DMK braced for polling Monday, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, seeking another term in office, appealed to voters Sunday to turn out in strength to exercise their franchise and “reject those who challenge the values of democracy… who spoil the truth for temporary gains and vested interests”.
An estimated 5.82 crore voters will decide the fate of 3,776 candidates in 234 constituencies across the state. But voting in two constituencies has been deferred following large-scale distribution of money among voters. On Sunday night, the Election Commission ordered polling for Thanjavur to be held on May 23, a move which came a day after it took a similar decision for Aravakurichi.
The poll panel said the Thanjavur election was being postponed to May 23 so that “the vitiating effect of the money power created by the distribution of money and gift items to the electors of the constituency loses its intensity and a more congenial atmosphere conducive to the conduct of free and fair election is created”. Counting of votes will take place there on May 25 and not May 19 as scheduled earlier.
Jayalalithaa, whose election campaign speeches focused on social welfare schemes in the last five years, did not stir out of her residence over the weekend but, in a three-page letter to her party cadres, reminded them of DMK’s “dynasty politics” and “massive corruption” during its rule earlier.
“Casting votes in a democratic process is also a responsibility. Taking part in the election process means we are protecting democracy and its values for ourselves and our future generations,” she said in her statement. Without naming anybody, she said there was an “evil force which even pawns its children for selfish reasons and scripts things according to situation for its win” which the people were keenly watching.
The AIADMK has promised, among other welfare measures, 100 units of free power to a household every two months, 50 per cent subsidy for purchase of a scooter by a woman, a free laptop scheme for school students with free Internet connection, an Amma banking card for all government schemes and services, a sovereign gold for a woman ahead of her marriage, free mobile phones to all ration card holders, maternity assistance of Rs 18,000 and increase in maternity leave from six to nine months.
The DMK, on the other hand, is hoping to make a comeback, counting on anti-incumbency and the promise of prohibition.
In an interview to The Indian Express as the campaign wound up, DMK chief M Karunanidhi said his party’s prospects had brightened in the last phase of the campaign. He claimed that a majority of male voters supported the idea of prohibition in Tamil Nadu and, therefore, also his party.
In a statement, Karunanidhi too reminded voters of their “duty of safeguarding democracy and people”. He sought the cooperation of all to ensure peaceful polling through “duty, discipline and dignity”.
The battlelines drawn, top leaders like Jayalalithaa, Karunanidhi and his son M K Stalin should sail through but the contest is not going to be easy for most including Captain Vijayakanth of DMDK, Anbumani Ramadoss of PMK, Thol Thirumavalavan of VCK, several ministers of AIADMK and former DMK ministers and party veterans.
The feedback from some constituencies suggest that the Vijayakanth-led Third Front may play spoilsport where DMK and AIADMK candidates hope to do well. The BJP hopes to corner a decent voteshare in the state to improve prospects for upcoming local body polls.