Erode, Tamil Nadu:
It is a sea of men clad in dhotis with distinctive party colour border design seeking votes with a smile and folded hands for their party candidates. The town is abuzz, with electioneering at the peak, and teeming trendy cars criss-cross the busy roads and bylanes bringing in more and more leaders from elsewhere for campaign.
The February 27 bypoll to Erode (East) Assembly constituency in Tamil Nadu has emerged as the mother of all byelections in the State mainly for ‘experiments’ by parties with ‘new formulae’ to win.
No wonder, claims on a variety of inducements to voters by parties have become the talk of the town. The kind of attention the bypoll is getting from the ruling DMK and principal opposition AIADMK is striking.
Herding people in sheds to prevent rivals from approaching them, cash for votes, attractive gifts including branded clothing, 1-gram gold coins and silver articles, organising tours to tourist places and providing fresh meat during the weekend form part of the alleged ‘new formulas.’ The total value of gifts and cash to a ‘target’ family of four voters may be around Rs 10,000 or even above, if allegations from several quarters are true.
Election officials maintained that round-the-clock surveillance is on and as and when they receive a complaint, they take all steps to prevent bribing voters. No allegation on gifts or cash for votes have so far been proven, they said.
On gifts and cash, local people hesitantly said that the ‘offer’ is from supporters of both the DMK, which is backing Congress nominee EVKS Elangovan and the AIADMK as well. The main opposition has fielded its former MLA from here KS Thennarasu.
Some said that the ruling party loyalists are more ‘generous,’ and they hoped the AIADMK would ‘match’ the governing party workers’ ‘magnanimity.’ A few men and women just smiled and walked away when asked if they accepted inducement of any kind. Erode in western Tamil Nadu, about 400 kms from Chennai is noted for its powerlooms. While the AIADMK and its ally the BJP have alleged it is the ruling party which is using dubious formulas to win, the DMK-Congress combine has trashed accusations.
Elangovan, also a former Union Minister, told PTI that such allegations are completely false. “Losing parties always come up with such allegations. They cannot admit that they do not have people’s support and that it is the reason for their defeat. On the contrary, they come up with false allegations and that is the usual practice. I am sure I will win with a big margin,” he said.
K S Thennarasu, a two-time MLA from Erode and AIADMK nominee said that people trust only the AIADMK and he would be the winner in the bypoll. He alleged that the DMK-Congress combine resorted to dubious methods to secure votes.
Filmmaker turned politician Seeman-led Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK) is very active on the ground and though the main contest is between Elangovan and Thennarasu, NTK’s Meneka Navaneethan is expected to put up a spirited fight. The NTK is targeting both the DMK and AIADMK and a clash erupted between the supporters of ruling party men and the Seeman-led party.
Meneka said: “People are being diverted. They are given money. It is very difficult to spot voters. Both the DMK and AIADMK take them away and put them up in a particular place.” She alleged that Rs 500 is paid for those who stay put till afternoon and if they continue in the evening Rs 500 more is provided to them. AIADMK interim chief Palaniswami in his campaign dared the DMK to send people out of the ‘sheds.’ She claimed a variety of gift items like pressure cooker, anklets are being showered on voters.
“People have shown the dhotis and sarees they have received. Both the DMK and AIADMK are competing in giving away such gifts. This is a big challenge. Erode East bypoll has turned out to be the choice place for new formulas,” she said.
Pleasure trips have been organised for voters, and on Sunday mornings meat bags were distributed at the doorstep, she alleged. “These are all new and they (Dravidian parties) are doing it to attract people and get their votes. By unleashing their money power, they are only deceiving the people.” In their campaign, the NTK underscores that at least Rs 300 crore has been pumped in by the Dravidian majors for the bypoll, she said.
“The winner will only try to get the money back and cash for votes is disastrous.” Coimbatore based V Eswaran, who approached Madras High Court against bribing voters and misuse of money power in polls is running a campaign here against cash for votes. Alongwith volunteers, he is addressing people in a public address system fitted mini-truck saying giving and taking cash for votes is murder of democracy.
“Top leaders of both the DMK and AIADMK should give an assurance in Erode that they will not give money for votes and that they are committed to eradicate this culture of providing cash for votes,” he said adding people should also pledge to end the trend of inducements.
The extent of allegations on cash and gifts even led to speculations on the possibility of the Election Commission ‘cancelling’ the bypoll.
The campaigning is in full swing, and it begins as early as 6 AM goes up to 9 PM. Batches of party workers, both men and women, with electoral rolls on their hands, check for the presence of voters. Besides door-to-door canvassing, convincing community leaders to ensure votes for their candidates is given special attention.
The DMK regime deputed almost all of its ministers including Chief Minister M K Stalin’s son Udhayanidhi for the campaign, the AIADMK too has left no stone unturned to wrest the constituency from its arch rival. Although the candidate here is from the Congress, it is undoubtedly the DMK’s poll show.
Stalin is all set to campaign on February 25, the last day for electioneering. Ministers S Muthusamy and V Senthil Balaji who hail from Erode and Karur, respectively appear to be the pivots around which the DMK’s election work for Congress is going on.
The ruling party is making great efforts to ensure that the nominee of its ally, the Congress party wins by a massive margin as the outcome may be viewed as a sort of referendum over its nearly two-year old government and it would also set the tone for 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
The bypoll is the first in Tamil Nadu after the DMK assumed power in 2021.
The AIADMK, under the leadership of K Palaniswami, is straining every nerve to demonstrate that it continued to be a force to reckon with in the State, especially in the western region considered its bastion.
Good electoral performance would also mean public endorsement of Palaniswami’s leadership in addition to the people’s court’s validation of O Panneerselvam’s expulsion.
The AIADMK’s campaign here often refers to DMK regime doing away with welfare schemes initiated during its regime like the ‘Thalikku Thangam’ scheme (gold for marriage) and the ruling party ‘failing miserably’ to deliver on its promises. AIADMK top leader Palaniswami and others have sought votes for Thennarasu.
The DMK’s star campaigner Udhayanidhi’s campaign would demonstrate the ruling party’s campaign theme. While the DMK regime has fulfilled assurances, the BJP-led Centre has not honoured promises. Both the AIADMK’s Palaniswami and the Saffron party are deceiving the people. To substantiate his point, Udhayanidhi listed state government schemes including a hospital project and the BJP-led Centre failing to build AIIMS at Madurai, years after promising it.
The bypoll was necessitated due to the demise of legislator E Thirumahan Everaa, son of noted Congress leader and former Union Minister Elangovan.
Senguntha Mudaliyar and Kongu Gounder communities form a chunk of the electorate. Islamic organisations and parties have pledged their support to the Congress nominee.
Including DMDK’s Anand, as many as 77 contestants are in the fray, which is among the highest in any poll or bypoll. In 2011, the AIADMK backed DMDK won Erode East and in 2016 Thennarasu won.
In the 2021 Assembly election, the number of contestants were 14 and 12 forfeited deposit and only the winning Congress (DMK ally) candidate E Thirumahan Everaa and the runner-up M Yuvaraja of Tamil Maanila Congress-Moopanar who contested in the AIADMK’s Two leaves symbol retained deposit. Everaa won by a margin of 8,904 votes.
The constituency has 2,27,547 voters and women (1,16,497) are more than men (1,11,025) and 25 fall under the third gender category. The total number of polling stations is 238. The campaigning ends at 5 PM on February 25 and votes will be counted on March 2.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)