New Delhi: Voting in four states and one Union territory on Super Tuesday brought the curtains almost down for the Assembly elections 2021, barring in West Bengal, where five more phases remain. The results on May 2 will eventually indicate where the Bharatiya Janata Party stands vis-à-vis strong non-BJP parties in the three key states of TN, Kerala and West Bengal, and whether it is able to retain its government in Assam.
On Tuesday, voting was largely peaceful except for sporadic violence reported in Assam and West Bengal.
Till 6.30 p.m, the voter turnout was below 70% in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, 80.32% in Assam, 77.68% in West Bengal, and 78.03% in Puducherry, as per media reports. The figures are likely to change when the Election Commission releases a final statement on voter turnout.
A total of 3,998 candidates are in the fray for the 234- member Assembly. Though several fronts are in the fray, the fight is primarily between Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
The state is known for distributing cash for votes and both DMK and AIADMK have accused each others of distributing cash for votes and held road rokos in several places.
The COVID-19 protocols went for a toss as no solid measures were initiated in several polling booths. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 infected persons showed little interest in casting their votes, with only 17 of the 8,991 infected persons in Chennai opting to vote.
The Election Commission has made arrangements to distribute disposable gloves and sanitisers for the voters but physical distancing norms were not followed with several people arriving at the polling stations without masks.
A total of 174 polling machines, 134 control units and 558 VVPAT machines were replaced for malfunctioning.
In Virudhunagar constituency, polling was stopped following allegation of votes being registered for BJP irrespective of the choice of the voters.
Replying to a question on the AIADMK's demand to postpone elections in five constituencies, DMK president, MK Stalin said, "The public mood is against the ruling party. Fearing defeat, the AIADMK demanded deferment of polls but the election commission has rejected it.”
Actor Kamal Haasan, who is contesting from Coimbatore South constituency, has accused the BJP of issuing 'tokens' for voters. He has registered a complaint with the election commission on the distribution of cash.
Reportedly, residents in Vedharanyam in Nagapattinam handed over AIADMK cadres who had distributed tokens to homes. The parties allegedly gave cash for those who submit the tokens after registering their votes in their favour.
DMK candidate from Thondamuthur constituency Karthikeya Senapathy alleged that the AIADMK and BJP cadres attacked him while visiting a booth. He is pitted against Minister for Local Administration S P Velumani.
A two-wheeler belonging to a AIADMK leader was burnt in Kovilpatti which is witnessing a three-cornered fight between R Sreenivasan of CPI(M), Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam leader TTV Dhinakaran and sitting minister Kadambur Raju.
Namakkal saw the highest of 70.79% and Tirunelveli the lowest with 50.05% turnout.
Long queues were seen at several booths across the state as polling began at 7 am could be seen at late hours of the day, too, however turnout was below 70% till 6.30 p.m
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who is contesting from Dharmadam in Kannur, Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala contesting from Haripad, Senior Congress leader Oommen Chandy from Puthupally, BJP state president K Surendran trying his luck from Konni and Manjewswaram, cast their votes in the early hours of polling.
"I have full faith in the people, who are with the Left," said Vijayan expressing the confidence that the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led LDF would be voted back to power. He said the front would secure more seats than it had won in the 2016 Assembly polls.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan casts vote at RC Amala Basic School at Pinarayi in Kannur
Kerala had witnessed a fierce campaign in the run up to the polls by the ruling CPI(M) led Left Democratic Front (LDF), Opposition Congress led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the BJP led NDA. The opposition UDF and NDA had been trying to bring the Sabarimala issue as the centre of election campaign, but the developmental activities of the LDF government were at the centre of campaigns.
During the campaigns, the UDF and the BJP said the LDF government would face the wrath of the Ayyappa devotees in the polls. Kerala saw violent protests by activists of BJP and right wing outfits after the LDF government decided to implement the 2018 Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala, where traditionally women in the menstrual age group of 10-50 are banned from worshipping.
Opposition leader Chennithala said people of Kerala will give a befitting reply to the LDF in the polls and UDF would register a ''historic win''.
Along with the chief minister, seven of his cabinet colleagues are among the 957 candidates in fray in the state. The total electorate includes 1,32,83,724 male voters, 1,41,62,025 female voters and 290 transgenders, according to election commission.
The third phase of polling in the eight-phase voting in West Bengal went without any major incident apart from three candidates being heckled. In Canning, Moidul Islam of Indian Secular Front was heckled in the presence of central forces, while in Khanakul, BJP candidate Papiya Adhikary was heckled by Trinamool Congress members . In Jagatballabhpur and Canning, in some areas, TMC allegedly did not allow ISF agents to sit within the booth premises.
BJP MP Soumitra Khan's estranged wife and TMC candidate Sujata Mondal Khan was also allegedly assaulted by BJP cadre in Arambag, a charge denied by the saffron party.
While Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee alleged "blatant misuse" of central forces to "influence voters", CPI(M) leader Rabin Deb also alleged that incidents of candidates being heckled were continuing as the Election Commission and Central forces were not exercising their power.
Till 5 p.m, 77% polling was recorded in the state, with Hooghly recording the highest turnout at 79.29%, Howrah at 77.85%, and South 24 Parganas at 74.18%.
Over 78.5 lakh voters are eligible to exercise their franchise to decide the fate of 205 candidates, including BJP leader Swapan Dasgupta, state minister Ashima Patra and CPI(M) leader Kanti Ganguly.
Polling was largely peaceful in Assam in 40 constituencies spread across 12 districts, barring sporadic violence and disturbances in some areas.
There were reports of a clash between two groups at a polling station at Dighaltari lower primary school at Golakganj. Police resorted to lathicharge and firing in the air to control the situation but none was injured, an official said.
Polling at the booth was stopped for a brief period and resumed soon, he said.
At a booth at Guptipara in Bilasipara West constituency security personnel were attacked by a group of people over distribution of free masks. Here too the police resorted to lathicharge.
In a polling booth in Bongaigaon, too, there was lathi-charge by the police when a huge crowd arrived, an official of the force said.
EVM malfunctioning was reported in several polling centres and voting resumed after the machines were replaced.
The Union Territory of Puducherry witnessed a high voter turnout for its 30 constituencies. The voting percentage was 78.03 at 6.30 pm, according to the Election Commission (EC).
The Congress is fighting the polls in alliance with the DMK. The opposition tie-up consists of All India NR Congress, BJP, and AIADMK.
Just a few weeks before the election, the Congress government toppled with four of its sitting MLAs resigning. This election is a test to the party's long standing presence in the UT. It is a decisive election for the BJP as well, which is trying hard to make inroads into the UT.
Prohibitory orders were in place under Section 144 for 48-hours prior to the Assembly elections. The polling was overall peaceful.
(With inputs from A Neelambaran and Sruti MD in Chennai, Shilpa Shaji in Kerala, Sandip Chakraborty in West Bengal and PTI.)