Chennai: As estimated 5.99 crore electorate are expected to exercise their franchise as single phase polling for the Lok Sabha and Assembly byelections began in Tamilnadu at 7 am today morning.
Though there are 39 Lok Sabha constituencies in the State, elections are being held only for 38 seats after the Election Commission (EC) rescinded the polling for the Vellore seat following seizure of large amount of cash.
Simultaneous polling also commenced for the 18 of 22 vacant Assembly seats in the state, that would decide the fortunes of the ruling AIADMK, whose stability hinges on the outcome of the polls. The bypoll for the remaining four seats would be held on 19 May.
About 5.99 crore electorate – 3.02 crore women and 2.95 crore men – will cast their ballots to decide the fate of 822 candidates, including 63 women, in fray for the Lok Sabha seats and 269
candidates, including 27 women, for the 18 Assembly seats.
The polling would continue till 6 pm, except in Madurai, where it has been extended till 8 pm in view of the annual Chithirai festival.
Polling began in a total of 67,720 booths of which 8,293 were identified as sensitive and vulnerable. Additional para-military forces were deployed in these booths. The EC has made arrangements for live webcasting of the poll proceedings in about 30,000 booths, including those identified as sensitive and vulnerable.
A total of 160 companies of para-military forces were deployed on security duty across the State along with 1.4 lakh police personnel, drawn from fire, prison, forest departments, home guards NSS volunteers and retired personnel.
In Chennai alone, about 15,000 police personnel were drafted for poll duty. For the first time, Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) is being used in all the polling booths, along with the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).
Even before the polling commenced, long queues were seen in a majority of the booths, as voters, especially senior citizens, lined up to exercise their democratic right.
Since several districts of the state has been reeling under scorching heat, people chose to case their vote early to avoid standing in queues in the heat.
For the first time, about 150 to 170 mentally-retarded and mentally ill people would be exercising their franchise in the polls.
The Greater Chennai Corporation has made special arrangements for this purpose, by setting up a polling booth to enable the inmates of the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) at Kilpauk area in the city, coming under Central Chennai Parliamentary constituency, to vote in the election. Polling for them would begin around 9 am.
The EC, after getting President Ram Nath Kovind’s nod, rescinded the polling to Vellore Lok Sabha seat (where 23 candidates has filed their papers), following seizure of a large amount of cash allegedly meant for distribution to the voters.
DMK Treasurer and former Minister Duraimurugan’s son Kathir Anand is the DMK candidate and is pitted against New Justice Party (NJP) Founder A C Shanmugham, who is fielded as part of the AIADMK-BJP led Front.
The EC, however, said bypolls to Gudiyatham and Ambur Assembly seats, coming under Vellore LS seat is being held as scheduled. Mr Shanmugham and an Independent moved the High Court against the EC order, but their pleas were dismissed.
Upholding the EC’s decision to cancel the polls, a Division Bench comprising S Manikumar and Justice Subramonium Prasad dismissed their pleas on the ground that the EC, which has the power to issue notification for holding elections, also has the power for recommending cancellation, if it has arrived at the conclusion that it is necessary to halt the election.
Hours after the high voltage campaign ended on Tuesday evening and the EC rescinded polls to Vellore Parliamentary constituency, Income-Tax officials raided the house of DMK Thoothukudi nominee and Rajya Sabha member Ms Kanimozhi, who is also the daughter of late Chief Minister M Karunanidhi. But no seizures were made.
In a related development, Police were forced to fire four rounds in the air at Andipatti, coming under Theni Lok Sabha seat, after supporters of AMMK founded by TTV Dhinakaran attempted to attack the cops and prevented them from seizing the cash meant for distribution to the voters. However, no one was injured in the incident.
More than the Lok Sabha polls, the bypoll to 18 Assembly seats is more crucial for the stability of the AIADMK government, and the party has to win a good number of seats to ensure a simple
majority in the 234 member House.
The elections is witnessing a four-cornered contest between the AIADMK-BJP led Front, that comprises PMK, DMDK, Puthiya Tamilagam, Tamil Maanila Congress and New Justice Party, the Opposition DMK-led Secular Progressive Alliance (SPA) that included Congress, MDMK, CPI, CPI(M), IUML, VCK, KMDK and IJK, the AMMK and the nascent Makkal Neethi Maiam (MNM) of actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan.
The AMMK and MNM are facing elections for the first time, though the main fight is between the two dravidian majors AIADMK and the DMK, who are contesting 20 Lok Sabha seats each and has allotted the remaining seats to their allies.
Since AMMK is not a registered party, the Supreme Court had ruled that their candidates, if elected, will be treated as Independents.
Both the AIADMK and the DMK are facing the elections for the first time without their tall leaders and former Chief Ministers J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi, who died in December 2016 and August 2018, respectively.
The AIADMK had won three successive elections starting from 2011 Assembly polls and followed it up with a thumping win in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, where Ms Jayalalithaa single handedly won 37 seats, and later emulated her political mentor MGR by guiding AIADMK for a second successive term in the 2016 Assembly polls.
Prominent candidates in the fray included senior AIADMK leader and Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker M Thambidurai (Karur); Union Minister Pon Radhakrishnan, who is seeking re-election from Kanniyakumari facing H Vasanth Kumar (Congress); late DMK Chief Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi, who is pitted against BJP State unit President Ms Tamilisai Soundararajan in Tuticorin; former Union Ministers T R Baalu (Sriperumbudur); Dayanidhi Maran (Central Chennai); A Raja (Nilgiris-R); S S Palanimanickam (Thanjavur); S Jagathratchagan – all DMK –
and PMK’s A K Moorthy (both Arakkonam); Mr Panneerselvam’s son P Raveendranath Kumar (Theni); K Ponmudy’s son Gowtham Sigamani (Kallakurichi); Arcot N Veerasamy’s son Dr Kalanidhi Veerasamy (North Chennai); former Union Minister P Chidambaram’s son Karti Chidambaram, who would be facing BJP National Secretary H Raja in Sivaganga; former TNCC President Su Thirunavukkarasar (Tiruchy); sitting MP and former Union Minister Dr Anbumani
Ramadoss of PMK (Dharmapuri); DMDK founder and actor-politician Vijakanth’s brother-in-law L K Sudeesh (Kallakurichi); VCK Founder Thol Thirumavalavan (Chidambaram-R); Fisheries Minister D Jayakumar’s son Dr J Jayvardhan seeking re-election from Chennai South; PT Founder Dr K Krishnasamy (Tenkasi-R).