Calling the atmosphere in two Tamil Nadu Assembly constituencies “seriously vitiated” due to the use of money, the Election Commission Saturday recommended cancellation of polls in the Aravakurichi and Thanjavur seats.
While elections are normally cancelled following evidence of rigging, muscle power or booth capturing, it was the first time this was being done because of voters being bribed with money, the EC said in a statement, citing instances of money seizures in the two constituencies and various judicial observations. Polls would be held “after a reasonable amount of time”, it added.
The EC notification of May 27 also took a strong view of Tamil Nadu Governor K Rosaiah’s letter on elections in the two seats, saying he should have “avoided” writing to the commission on dates. The Governor’s suggestion that the Commission should have consulted him before altering the dates of polls is against the “scheme of election process” enacted in the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the EC said.
Giving details, the EC said the total seizures from the two constituencies amounted to Rs 7.12 crore cash, 429.24 litres of liquor and 33.256 kg of silver worth Rs 9 lakh at Aravakurichi,and Rs 75,20,850 cash and 2,145.12 litres of liquor at Thanjavur constituency up to May 15, apart from one lakh saris and dhotis each by the two parties.
Apart from this, AIADMK candidates had gifted Rs 5 lakh-Rs 50 lakh to villages and residential localities to renovate temples, said the EC notification, quoting complaints from public and candidates of smaller parties. It also referred to means such as distribution of tokens to families to purchase home appliances after the polls.
On May 15, a flying squad had seized Rs 34,000 from Saravanan from Thanjavur, who is also the vice-president of the student federation of the AIADMK, the EC said.
In its detailed, 29-page recommendation, the poll panel rejected Rosaiah’s “observation” that the elections to the two seats be held soon so that the members could vote in the June 11 Rajya Sabha elections.
The poll panel said this was “an extraneous consideration inasmuch as the members elected on the basis of an election which is not free and fair would not be true representatives of the electors of these constituencies”.
It further said, “there is no requirement under the law that for conducting elections to the Rajya Sabha, all the seats in the Legislative Assembly should be filled”.
Asking Rosaiah to cancel the notification on holding of polls, the EC said it would ask him to order a revised schedule for the two constituencies.
On May 26, on petitions from AIADMK candidates Senthil Balaji (Aravakurichi) and Rengasamy (Thanjavur), Rosaiah wrote to the EC seeking early polls in the two seats so as to enable the newly-elected members to vote in the Rajya Sabha polls to six seats from Tamil Nadu.
The EC said that neither the Representation of the People Act, 1951, nor any other law required that it should consult the Governor before any changes in the election calendar. Citing various constitutional and judicial orders, the EC said, “In view of the above settled law position, the Commission is, with due respect, constrained to observe that the Governor should have avoided writing to the Commission as on 26th May, 2016.”
Former chief election commissioner S Y Quraishi said the EC had done the “correct thing” in both cancelling the polls and rejecting Rosaiah’s view. “I applaud the bold decision of the EC. I hope this will prove a deterrent against the blatant abuse of money power that remains perhaps the only unsolved problem before the EC. On the issue of the Governor writing to the EC with his observations, I think the EC has rightly rejected his view. The EC is mandated the task of ensuring free and fair elections. If it gets to know that the process is getting vitiated, it has to step in,” Quraishi told The Indian Express.
Earlier, the EC had on two occasions postponed polls at Aravkurichi and Thanjavur. While these were first put off from May 16 to May 23, on May 21, the EC announced it was postponing the elections to June 13.
“It is pertinent to note that in Aravakurichi, there was a seizure of Rs 5,72,710 even after the order of postponement of poll by the Commission,” the poll panel said.
It added that M Baskaran, the PMK candidate from Aravakurichi, had complained that before the poll authorities raided the houses and premises of DMK and AIADMK candidates and their associates, huge amounts of money had already been distributed.
Baskaran had alleged that about Rs 59.4 crore was distributed by the AIADMK candidate and Rs 39.6 crore by the DMK candidate.
“…the EC is satisfied that the election process in the two constituencies, because of inducing electors by candidates and political parties by offering money and other gifts… is seriously vitiated and cannot be allowed to proceed… Fresh elections may be conducted de novo in these two constituencies when the atmosphere becomes conducive… after a reasonable lapse of time,” said the statement signed jointly by Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi and election commissioners A K Joti and O P Rawat.
Denying the EC charges, AIADMK spokesperson Nanjil Sampath said, “We don’t have to bribe voters to get votes. It would be underestimating the massive victory we had in the elections. We had an impressive victory because Amma (Jayalalithaa) developed the state as one of the best in the country, in terms of sectors such as education, health and transportation. People’s vote for the AIADMK is a thanksgiving for all this development, not purchased using money.”