With exactly ten days left for the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, the poll campaigns are raging in full force. While the opinion polls favour the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the contest is going to be a close one.
As the campaign reaches its peak, a series of income tax raids has been unleashed in the state, particularly against the leaders and candidates of the opposition parties. This has raised fingers against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre for allegedly using the central agencies to suppress political dissent in the state.
Meanwhile, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) camp was jolted when deputy Chief Minister and party coordinator O Panneerselvam expressed his willingness to accommodate V K Sasikala back into the party fold. This comes at a time when the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) led by Sasikala’s nephew TTV Dhinakaran is expected to hamper the AIADMK’s prospects in central and southern Tamil Nadu.
RAIDS ON OPPOSITION CANDIDATES
The frequency of income tax raids has suddenly increased in Tamil Nadu with the polls scheduled to be held on April 6. The leaders and candidates from the DMK and actor Kamal Haasan-led Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) have recently faced the raids.
R K Radha Krishnan, the associate editor of Frontline magazine, told Newsclick that the raids have taken place in constituencies where BJP candidates are in the fray.
"Raids have been conducted in Dharapuram on DMK and Marumalarchi DMK (MDMK) leaders, on the state treasurer of MNM in Coimbatore, on DMK candidates and their associates in Tiruvannamalai and Karur. The picture painted is that these candidates are spending more and distributing cash for votes, to which narrative the income tax department is lending support,” Radha Krishnan said.
The move against the opposition candidates could put them in a bad light for excessive use of money while the BJP itself has established massive offices purely for elections in Chennai and Madurai. "We know how the BJP spends on elections while they try to show others in poor light,” Radha Krishnan added.
'CENTRAL AGENCIES TO SILENCE OPPOSITION'
The previously held raids have not progressed in terms of finding anything, but instead, they have helped the central government to keep pressure on those leaders from the opposition parties. The DMK and other parties in the alliance have condemned the ‘selective’ raids by the central agencies.
"The earlier raids and subsequent cases have not seen any light, but are still pending,” Radha Krishnan said.
The raids are similar to recent incidents in Kerala, where the actions of central agencies, including the National Investigation Agency (NIA), against the LDF government came under the scanner.
"Most of the officials are in favour of the ruling party, which is a handicap for the DMK alliance. But with steep increase in different expenses, the limit set by the Election Commission is tough to be ensured by political parties. However, no one can justify the political parties distributing cash for votes, Radha Krishnan added.
OPS BATS FOR SASIKALA’S RETURN
Amidst all the melee, OPS in a television interview supported the re-entry of estranged leader and late Chief Minister J Jayalaitha’s aide, V K Sasikala back into the party fold. In what is seen as a massive 'U-turn', OPS who revolted against Sasikala and Dhinakaran due to his removal from the office of the Chief Minister, has openly batted for the reinstatement of Sasikala.
The divide in the leadership of the AIADMK, marred by the factional feud between OPS and EPS, is suspected to be the reason for the statement made by OPS. "I wanted to prove the innocence of Sasikala when lot of suspicions were raised after 'Amma' (reference to J Jayalaitha) passed away," OPS said in the interview.
The statement sent shockwaves among a section of the AIADMK since OPS himself has accused Sasikala and Dhinakaran of trying to split the party. The feud between the OPS and EPS camps is said to be behind the change of position.
CAMPAIGN HEATS UP
Meanwhile, the election campaign has heated up with the leaders of all the political parties travelling the length and breadth of the state. The DMK camp is upbeat after successive opinion polls predicted an upper hand for the alliance.
The presence of multiple fronts, quite an unusual trend in Tamil Nadu, is expected to favour the DMK. Vijayasankar, editor of the Frontline, said, "In the last six elections, the two fronts led by DMK and AIADMK have shared around 75-80% of the votes polled. Any other front coming to the forefront in the state is not an immediate possibility.”
The AMMK is expected to divide the votes of the AIADMK in the south and central districts while the MNM could attract the upper middle class votes in its favour. "Such a split of votes will end up favouring the DMK alliance and any deterioration in AIADMK will help the BJP grow in the state", Vijayasankar added.