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Election Commission's postponement of RK Nagar bypolls is admission that it can't police Tamil Nadu

There is only one takeaway from the elaborate 29-page order of the Election Commission put out late on Sunday night: Tamil Nadu's politicians are way too cunning for the authorities. The commission may be armed to the teeth with laws but the netas and their foot soldiers are the real Chennai Super Kings, albeit a crooked version. So the EC has done the only thing it could do: Suspend the RK Nagar match to another day.

 Election Commissions postponement of RK Nagar bypolls is admission that it cant police Tamil Nadu

File image of Tamil Nadu chief minister E Palaniswami. PTI

Just like the court reprimanded the IPL team's management and suspended it for two years, the political operators in Tamil Nadu have come in for severe criticism. But go through the order and you realise that it is an admission of the state machinery's inability to police those who are a law unto themselves. The EC makes an elaborate attempt to explain that it tried everything it could. As opposed to three flying squads and three static surveillance teams that are usually deployed in an Assembly constituency, the EC formed 61 teams with 277 members. In addition, from 6 April, another 70 mobile parties on two-wheelers were formed. Ten companies of the Central Armed Police Force were put in place for area domination.

Creating a new record, the EC sent six special observers to RK Nagar, the highest in India's electoral history. Over a dozen Income Tax officials, in addition to sales tax teams, were also deployed. The EC transferred 22 cops, 18 revenue officials and 11 municipal officers. The usual norm is only to move out the top cop for the period of the election process but in RK Nagar, the commission recognised that the entire apparatus was rotten and shunted it out.

Drawing lessons from earlier instances of electoral malpractises, the EC teams even electronically monitored mobile phone top-ups. It managed to crack some instances of sale malpractices. For instance, while TTV Dhinakaran's managers claimed they had purchased 1,000 hats — the party's poll symbol — for Rs 30,000, investigations showed that the actual purchase was worth Rs three lakh for 10,000 hats.

The I-T raids on Tamil Nadu health minister C Vijayabasker and his accomplices at 35 locations nailed it. While cash worth Rs five crore was seized, incriminating documents were taken from his accountant Srinivasan's office which revealed the plot to bribe 2.24 lakh voters in RK Nagar with Rs 89 crore. No wonder, the EC admitted that the election atmosphere was "seriously vitiated" and acknowledged that parties were innovative. Damning the political parties, it said that the "top leadership cannot feign ignorance about such illegal activities".

What this means is that when it comes to elections in Tamil Nadu, it is open season for corruption.

With the going rate per vote at Rs 4,000 from just one party and the possibility of netting more from the others, it is obvious that parties had announced a mid-summer sale in RK Nagar. The voters were only too happy to be on sale. The flush-with-cash netas also cocked a snook at the demonetisation exercise that was meant to weed out black money and corruption. Tamil Nadu has shown that where there is a corrupt will, there is a cash-rich way.

File image of O Panneerselvam. PTI

File image of O Panneerselvam. PTI

Not that the 2016 Assembly election was any different. Elections were countermanded in Aravakurichi and Thanjavur constituencies after instances of bribing came to light. But it was not as if in the remaining 232 seats, the election process was 100 percent free and fair. The fact is the EC simply does not have the manpower to monitor every street in every constituency. It is commonly known that an unscheduled power cut in the late evening hours means cash is being distributed in the locality. Or the party managers beat the alarm clock and engage in enriching voters before the crack of dawn. By the time the EC teams start their sarkaari duty at 9 am, there is more money in every home.

It is not that RK Nagar should have surprised the EC. The political stakes were high as the winner would automatically stake claim to Jayalalithaa's legacy. It was obvious the floodgates would be opened. Will the rescinding of the poll have any impact on the contestants? Unlikely. After all, the EC allowed the same candidates who were seen to have vitiated the atmosphere in Thanjavur and Aravakurichi to contest again when the polls were held in November 2016.

What should bother most of us are the contents of the documents seized by I-T sleuths from Vijaybasker's accountant. They point to systematic corruption in transfers and postings and bribes allegedly paid by hospital and medical college managements to the Health minister. Other documents now out in the public domain show how every senior minister, including chief minister Edappadi Palaniswamy was allegedly part of the plan to bribe voters in RK Nagar. Clearly the Tamil Nadu government is corruption termite-infested, with an open season declared to loot the state.

The EC decision to postpone the bypoll is an admission that even by putting its best foot forward, it cannot hold a free and fair poll in Tamil Nadu. With voters also open to being bribed, it also shows a mirror to all of us. And the reflection sucks.

As far as Tamil Nadu is concerned, its governance and politics are in a diseased state. It needs to be urgently wheeled into the Critical Care Unit.

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Updated Date: Apr 10, 2017 13:32:57 IST

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