With 6,665 submissions the process of filing nominations for 234 seats in the Tamil Nadu Assembly ended on March 19. It is understood that the final number of candidates would fall considerably with the withdrawal of dummy candidates before March 22. The forms are presently under scrutiny.
MLA candidates and political party cadres have begun full-fledged election rallies and public meetings across the state. CM Edappadi K. Palaniswami and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief M.K. have been openly targeting one another in their road shows.
COVID-19 guidelines are being routinely flouted during campaigning even as cases have more than doubled over the past three weeks. The state has ordered the closure of schools for classes 9,10 and 11 from March 22 till further orders.
Cases of bribing voters continue to be reported too, especially by the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK). Instances of seizure of large amounts of undocumented cash and other goods have also been widely reported.
‘BIASED RAISED BY ECI’
According to Election Commission of India (ECI) data the total seizures in Tamil Nadu were the highest among the five poll-bound states. Rs 89.48 crore in cash, liquor worth Rs 28.93 crore, drugs worth Rs 75.67 crore, freebies worth Rs 48.52 crore and precious metals worth Rs 88.87 crore were recovered by law enforcement agencies, special surveillance teams and flying squads between the day the polls were announced and March 16.
The Income Tax Department claimed to have detected undisclosed income of about Rs 400 crore after it raided certain entities based in poll-bound Tamil Nadu. The department conducted searches at Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) treasurer A. Chandrasekaran’s properties in Tirupur. Searches were also carried out at the office of DMK Dharapuram town secretary K.S. Dhanasekar and MDMK district joint secretary Kavin Nagaraj.
Jayaram Venkatesan from the anti-corruption body Arappor Iyakkam said: “The ECI is carrying out biased raids. Whoever got the most number of tenders over the past few years should be raided. Raids are being used only as a political tool. Only the opposition is being raided, not the ruling party.”
“Each minute we see TV ads by political parties. Thousands of crores are being spent on ads. But they are declaring very low assets in their affidavits. How is this possible?” he asked.
AIADMK CAUGHT RED-HANDED
The ruling AIADMK is yet again facing allegations of distribution of cash ahead of the assembly elections.
A video, allegedly recorded in the Chepauk-Triplicane constituency of Chennai, has gone viral on social media. A person said to be the secretary of the AIADMK’s minority wing was purportedly seen handing out Rs 500 currency notes to women. The AIADMK has rejected the allegation and blames the DMK for levelling false allegations.
Stating that while some instances of bribery are caught, others are not, Jayaram Venkatesan said “Major political parties continuously dole out cash... Ruling party is giving Rs 2000, DMK will give Rs 1000 or Rs 1500, that is the only difference.”
The Dindigul district police have registered a case against former minister and AIADMK candidate for Natham assembly segment, Natham R. Viswanathan, on the charge of bribing voters after a video showing him distributing cash to voters during his campaign in Mulaiyur village on Monday went viral on social media.
DMK organising secretary R.S. Bharathi petitioned the state’s chief electoral officer to take steps to prevent the ruling party from transferring money online to voters’ accounts. Bharathi said minister S.P. Velumani, the AIADMK candidate from Thondamuthur, and his supporters were collecting mobile numbers of voters to disburse money to them through online platforms.
STARK DISPARITY IN ASSETS
According to affidavits filed by the candidates, prominent Tamil Nadu politicians are wealthier than their counterparts in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and the Union Territory of Puducherry. Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan is the wealthiest candidate with Rs 176.93 crore as assets.
Tamil Nadu health minister C. Vijayabaskar’s assets have grown more than six-and-a-half times – from Rs 8.98 crore in 2016 to Rs 60.29 crore – according to the affidavit he filed before the returning officer in Viralimalai constituency.
Amid a flock of affluent candidates contesting the election in Tamil Nadu, K. Marimuthu, the candidate of the Communist Party of India (CPI) for the Thiruthuraipoondi (Reserved) constituency in Tiruvarur district, stands out. He has declared in his affidavit that his wife owns the ancestral house where the family lives and 75 cents of agricultural land, valued at Rs 1.75 lakh.
VIOLATION OF COVID-19 PROTOCOLS
Large-scale violations of government-mandated COVID-19 guidelines continues in Tamil Nadu ahead of the state elections even as authorities have directed political parties to ensure wearing of masks.
Tamil Nadu reported 1,087 COVID-19 cases on March 19, pushing the active cases to 6,690.
The vigilance surveillance team in Coonoor slapped a fine of Rs 5,000 on the AIADMK after most workers were found not wearing a mask and not maintaining distance when candidate Kappachi D. Vinoth filed his nomination.
As the daily count rises rumours of another lockdown are making the rounds. Greater Chennai Corporation commissioner G. Prakash said “it's a rumour. We will fight the second wave scientifically. Those spreading rumours will be booked by the cybercrime police”.