RK Nagar bypoll: Row over actor Vishal's candidature puts credibility of Election Commission at stake
The Election Commission needs to put in place a returning officer who can stand up to the political clout and muscle power the candidates will demonstrate.
Actor Vishal is out of the contest in the by-election in RK Nagar but the electoral battle isn't short on filmy fireworks. The actor claimed the two people—Sumathi and Deepan—who proposed his name, only to subsequently claim before the returning officer, had gone missing. In a tweet, Vishal said he was worried about their safety and security. Efforts to trace Sumathi and her husband Velu at their residence in Tondiarpet locality had not borne fruit.
That's not all. The Election Commission has not covered itself with glory in this controversy. Speaking to The Hindu, Returning Officer K Velusamy accused Vishal and his team of putting "undue pressure on him". Significantly, he admits that he announced that Vishal's nomination was being accepted, before overturning that decision just an hour later.
"All of them pounced on me. In order to escape from that torture, I said that. However, I did pass the right judgment later," Velusamy said.
This makes it a fit case to remove Velusamy as Returning Officer in RK Nagar. More so because the constituency, that fell vacant after Jayalalithaa's demise last December, is likely to see candidates flouting all possible rules to undercut a rival. The Election Commission needs to put in place a returning officer who can stand up to the political clout and muscle power the candidates will demonstrate. Velusamy, a Tamil Nadu state government employee, clearly is not cut out for the task. The Election Commission will do well to appoint a non-Tamilian and someone who is not a government employee as returning officer, to reduce chances of being bullied or influenced.
Later in the evening, Velusamy put out a note claiming Sumathi and Deepan had met him separately, to reiterate that they had not proposed Vishal's candidature. In which case, the officer should file a police complaint of forgery against Vishal so that there is an independent investigation into the matter.
Jayalalithaa's niece, Deepa Jayakumar whose nomination papers were rejected as well, alleged that the ruling AIADMK had indulged in foul play and conspired to keep her out. The manner in which Vishal and Deepa, who many thought will pinch away a bit of the Jayalalithaa vote, has made people suspect that those in positions of power were pulling the strings from behind. The Leader of the Opposition and DMK working president MK Stalin has demanded Velusamy's transfer claiming that the situation in RK Nagar shows that the returning officer will act on the directions of the ruling party.
Is the state then the 12th man for Team AIADMK in the RK Nagar match? It is obvious for such a doubt to arise when AIADMK rebel TTV Dinakaran, who is contesting as an independent was denied permission by the Chennai Police to campaign in the constituency on 7 and 8 December. The reason reportedly given was that the chief minister was campaigning on Thursday. Dinakaran is another candidate who would poll some of the Jayalalithaa votes in the constituency.
The politicians of different hues are not the only ones facing the heat in RK Nagar. The Election Commission is as much on test. The last time, despite deploying Central forces, the politicians used ingenious methods to distribute Rs 4,000 for a vote in the constituency. The documents seized during Income Tax raids on Health minister C Vijaybasker's properties revealed an elaborate plan to spend Rs 89 crore to bribe the voters, with amounts allotted to all AIADMK heavyweights, including the chief minister. Unable to curb the malpractice, the Election Commission rescinded the election.
The Election Commission has not even read out the riot act to the candidates because the same faces — Dinakaran, Madhusudanan, Ganesh (DMK) — are running for office this time as well. The candidates have switched parties but the stakes remain as high. And therefore, they have every reason to make RK Nagar the mother of all ugly electoral battles.
A humiliating loss for Dinakaran would effectively kill his political career. It is important for the Palaniswami-Panneerselvam combine to make their candidate Madhusudanan win, in order to cement their position as the joint inheritors of Jayalalithaa's political legacy. The DMK will lose face if it loses because now it stands to gain with the traditional AIADMK vote getting split between Madhusudanan and Dinakaran.
Thrown into the mix is the 2G verdict that will be announced at 10.30 am on 21 December, the day RK Nagar has its date with the EVM. It may well be just a coincidence but the verdict is bound to influence the voters. If the judgment goes against the DMK duo of Kanimozhi and A Raja, it could affect the party's fortunes in RK Nagar. Alternately, if they are acquitted, the polling agents can tom-tom the court's verdict to every voter.
Then there is the inherent character of RK Nagar itself. Most believe that April spoilt them because the electorate, largely a lower middle-class population, realised the value of every vote. Chennai watchers believe RK Nagar has tasted blood and the people would put a price tag on their vote. The last four days before polling day is traditionally when candidates and parties loosen their purse strings. That is when unscheduled power cuts take place to facilitate distribution of money under the cover of darkness, the morning newspapers come tagged with a coupon to exchange for cash and the neighbourhood kirana shop starts giving grocery for free because he has been reimbursed by a candidate.
The Vishal episode was only a starter. But the main course, unless strictly monitored, is quite likely to leave a bad taste in the mouth.
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