RK Nagar bypoll: Cash still king as politicos lure voters, stay one step ahead of EC's flying squads
The electorate realises that barring a few new roads, electing Jayalalithaa did not result in significant benefits for RK Nagar.
How often do you see an election where voters openly complain about not receiving money? If you thought this was bad, there is worse. How often do you seen an election where voters admit to having received money from two parties but complain that the third party has not been forthcoming in distributing money, or has given out less cash?
This is the RK Nagar constituency in Chennai, where a song and dance is taking place over electing J Jayalalithaa's successor. No, this is no kingdom or throne being passed down. On offer is the post of the legislator for the constituency, which Jayalalithaa occupied in 2015 and 2016, until her death last December.
Radhakrishnan Nagar, named after India's former president and eminent scholar Dr S Radhakrishnan, is a vast spread in North Madras. There is however, nothing scholarly or intellectual about RK Nagar. It is mainly inhabited by fishermen and workers who toil in different factories around the constituency and is home to a large migrant population.
The roads in most localities are bad, power supply is erratic but the biggest problem is lack of safe drinking water. "Give us nothing else, only clean drinking water. We drink gutter water now," said Madhavan, a worker who came to cast his vote.
The electorate realises that barring a few roads that replaced the kuccha pathways and some public parks, electing Jayalalithaa did not result in significant benefits for the constituency. And perhaps this is why they chose the more practical path of making hay while the sun shines. If the cancelled election in April got them Rs 4,000 a vote, this time they received Rs 6,000. Other parties were only too keen to match the amount. So if you do the math for a family of four voters, you realise why RK Nagar loves election season.
Which is why the by-election that took place in RK Nagar on Thursday was tainted: Tainted by the vulgarity of cash for votes, where the politicians were one step ahead of the Election Commission's flying squads and knew exactly how to beat the system. If Income Tax raids in April on the state health minister's properties revealed an alleged plot to distribute Rs 89 crore in cash, estimates are that December has seen Rs 120 crore being distributed among 2.2 lakh voters.
Yet, despite appeals by several outfits, including the BJP, to cancel the poll, the Election Commission did not do so. Despite sting operations, reportage and anecdotal evidence revealing large-scale bribery, the poll panel decided to go ahead with the election, as if it wanted to get over with the job it was finding difficult to control.
However, in all of this, the mistake the Election Commission made was to not reprimand the candidates who were responsible for the cancellation of April election. The same candidates from the three main political outfits were in the fray again, and in the absence of any harsh punishment, they knew they could get away with distribution of money.
The situation was only too similar to what happened in May 2016 when elections to three Assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu were stopped after allegations of cash distribution. When the poll panel did not do anything about it, in November 2016, the same tainted candidates contested again.
However, this time, the Election Commission reacted strongly when a video, which showed former chief minister Jayalalithaa undergoing treatment was released, asking TV channels to take it off air. But the poll panel's description of the video as "election matter" was strange since it was not canvassing for votes for TTV Dhinakaran (also spelt as Dinakaran). Nonetheless, the timing of the release was highly questionable.
With over 77 percent people coming out to cast their votes, the turnout has been impressive. While the DMK would hope to retain its core vote base of 57,000 that it polled last year, it is unlikely that the 2G verdict, which acquitted two party leaders in a corruption scandal, would have had much impact in the constituency.
On the other hand, Jayalalithaa's video was a major talking point outside polling booths as the late leader's death and the conspiracy theories surrounding it, was a highly emotive issue. The point of the video, perhaps, was to suggest that VK Sasikala could not have had a hand in Jayalalithaa's death.
Meanwhile, E Madhusudanan of the AIADMK was banking on the local connect since he has been a resident of RK Nagar for decades, but at 75, many doubt if he will attract the youth vote.
The political significance of the election for the AIADMK and for Dhinakaran is not lost on anyone. A defeat in RK Nagar could well end Dhinakaran's political career, and should Madhusudanan lose to Dhinakaran, it will split the AIADMK. In that sense, 24 December, the day the result of the bypoll is announced, will be critical for both offshoots of the AIADMK.
Dhinakaran, for now, is showing all signs that he is going to win. Soon after addressing the media after polling ended at 6 pm, Dhinakaran stood in front of a green chroma background and flashed the victory sign. These photographs, one presumes, are for posters that he will get printed in anticipation of a victory on Sunday.
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