“Most of us go for deep sea fishing, and will be venturing into sea for weeks and even months together. We could not verify our names in the voters’ list due to our nature of work. When we visited the polling booths, our names were missing, whereas our family members’ names did figure in the list,” say fishermen belonging to Muttom fishing village of Kanyakumari Lok Sabha constituency. This was the picture in many fishermen’s hamlets in the constituency.
There were complaints about 40,000 voters being removed from the electoral rolls. A large majority of these deleted voters belong to minority community, particularly of the fishermen community from Arockiapuram near Kanyakumari to Neerodi Colony near the Kerala border. The fisherfolk have alleged that the deletion has been done as a result of political vendetta since the ruling party and sitting MPs believe that these votes will go against them.
Fishermen stage sit-in protests in polling booths
Voters of the fishermen community allege that around 1,000 votes from each hamlet have been deleted from the rolls. These villages have strongly protested against the proposed International Transhipment Terminal by the incumbent Member of Parliament and Union Minister of State P Radhakrishan, the BJP’s lone representative from the state.
The state and the central governments have faced severe criticism and condemnation from the fisherfolk because of the way the rescue acts were carried out during Ockhi cyclone. The fishermen from various villages walked tens of kilometres to reach Kuzhithurai railway station, and sat on the tracks disrupting the train services. The fear of defeat has made the ruling party and the incumbent MP to involve in such illegal activities, they claim.
Tension prevailed in many coastal polling booths that witnessed continuous demonstrations. The district collector and the returning officer of the constituency were held hostage for a while in Thoothoor village by the people. But, the demands and requests of the fishermen went unanswered.
Tribal voters accuse of lesser facilities
Hundreds of tribal people live in reserve forest areas like Thachamalai, Thottamalai and Kuttiyar. But they have to travel in boats across the Pechipparai Dam to reach the polling stations in the Government Residential Tribal School at Pechipparai. Their demand for polling stations inside the locality has not seen any light so far.
Rajan Kani, former head of the Pechiparai village said, “The Election Commission has not accepted our demands. Hundreds of people travel for hours to reach the polling stations, while the officials travel 160 Km to Upper Kothayar via Tirunelveli district to set up a polling station for just six voters there”. The facilities at the polling stations are inadequate with intermittent rain, causing inconvenience to the voters.
Tamil Nadu’s infamous ‘purchase’ of votes
During the recent elections as well, the state topped with regard to the amount of cash seized. The voting in the Vellore constituency was deferred due to heavy cash seizure. In Kanyakumari, the Congress party alleged that thousands of tokens printed with the name of the BJP candidate P Radhakrishnan and the symbol along with undisclosed amount of cash were found in a campaign vehicle.
The opposition parties led by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam accused the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIDMK) of using the official machinery to distribute cash for votes, particularly in Theni, where the son of Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam is seeking mandate. Videos of legislators of ruling party giving advice to party functionaries on how to distribute cash among the voters in various constituencies have gone viral on social media platforms.
PMK’s call on Booth Capturing
The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) candidate from Dharmapuri and former union minister Dr Anbumani Ramadass, contesting on behalf of the AIADMK-BJP alliance, was seen addressing a campaign meeting in which he said, “There will be no one else inside the booth, then who can stop our victory?” Making his statement true, a polling booth in Nathamedu saw widespread irregularities. The allegations have not been looked into by the Election Commission, the opposition alleged. Even the multiple visits by the district collector could not stop the practice of bogus voting in the constituency.
Dissenting voices to make an impact
There were a few violent incidents in Arani, Chidambaram and Kanyakumari constituencies. But the alleged mass removal of voters from the rolls dominated the polling day in the state of Tamil Nadu. The Election Commission too came under attack for not taking concrete steps to stop the cash flow in the state.
The dissatisfaction with the Modi-led union government and AIADMK’s state government echoed among the voters with the first-time voters accusing the Union government of failing in creating employment.