In wake of cash seizures from DMK leaders over the last two weeks, the Election Commission (EC) Monday recommended to President Ram Nath Kovind that elections in the Vellore parliamentary constituency be cancelled. It cited the suspected use of money power to influence voters.
Vellore is scheduled to go to polls with the rest of Tamil Nadu on April 18. It is unclear whether the two Assembly seats, Ambur and Gudiyattam, under the Vellore LS seat, facing bypolls will also be countermanded or go as planned on Thursday.
Rashtrapati Bhavan received the EC’s proposal Monday night. The recommendation, The Indian Express has learnt, will be shared with the Law Ministry for its views on Tuesday. However, cancellation is imminent since the President, in this case, has little choice but to accept the EC’s proposal.
Once notified by the President, Vellore will be the first Lok Sabha seat to have had its elections countermanded over abuse of money power.
The EC, in 2017, had countermanded elections to the Dr Radhakrishnan Nagar Assembly seat in Tamil Nadu twice. In April 2016, during the TN Assembly elections, the EC postponed polls in Aravakurichi and Thanjavur, after cash running into crores was recovered from sites belonging to persons close to the AIADMK. In 2012, elections to two Rajya Sabha seats in Jharkhand were scrapped for the same reason.
The EC’s recommendation was sent in wake of cash seizures from the premises of DMK veteran leader and party treasurer Duraimurugan’s son Kathir Anand’s house in Vellore on March 29. Subsequently, on April 1, based on information that illegal cash was being moved from a college owned by the Duraimurugan family to a cement warehouse in Vellore, a second I-T search was launched and Rs 11.53 crore was seized.
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While searches at Anand’s residence, who is the DMK’s candidate in Vellore Lok Sabha constituency, yielded seizures of around Rs 19 lakhs, official scrutiny later found that only Rs 10.50 lakh was the excess or the unaccounted cash.
In connection with the I-T seizures, on April 10, Tamil Nadu police filed an FIR against Anand, and two others, Poonjolai Srinivasan, the owner of the cement warehouse and Damodaran, for their alleged links to DMK and Duraimurugan family. The seizures from Duraimurugan’s residence also include printouts with ward numbers written over them, which were allegedly documents to be used in the cash distribution.
The EC is learnt to have received a report from the Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer and also the special expenditure observer deputed to the state last week. It is based on their inputs that the EC concluded money power was being used to influence voters in the Parliamentary seat.
Armed with a sizeable number of minority votes, a strong presence of Indian Union Muslim League, and a strong anti-incumbency wave expected in this election, the DMK leadership considered Vellore in northern TN a promising seat in its battle against the AIADMK-NDA alliance candidate A C Shanmugam.
Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora declined to comment on the matter on Monday. When contacted by The Indian Express, Ashok Malik, Press Secretary to the President, said, “We have no comment to offer at this stage.”
The total seizures of unaccounted cash, drugs, liquor, precious metal and freebies, purportedly meant to influence voters, stands at Rs 2,550 crore, of which the highest – Rs 499 crore – is from Tamil Nadu. In the 2014 elections, the EC had confiscated cash, liquor, precious metal and freebies to the tune of Rs 1,200 crore.