Political campaigns being done mostly on foot in the city

With about two weeks left for the Assembly Elections 2011, poll preparedness by the District Election Office in all 16 constituencies in the city has gained momentum.

Over 380 candidates in the city are likely to make efforts to attract the attention of over 30.23 lakh voters in the coming days. Tapping the potential of around 35 per cent of the voters, who normally remain undecided till the last moment, seems to be the focus of the candidates' campaign.

Political campaigns are being done mostly on foot in the city because of the new expenditure control initiatives of the Election Commission.

The District Election Office is likely to cover 240 locations in the city every day for creating awareness among voters. The 1.6 lakh persons who have applied in Form 6 for name inclusion in the electoral roll will receive their photo identity cards before the elections, said District Election Officer and Corporation Commissioner D. Karthikeyan. The distribution of booth slips by the Chennai Corporation would begin on April 1.

New constituencies

Some constituencies in the city sport a new look this election. The delimitation has given rise to new constituencies such as Velachery, Virugambakkam, Kolathur and Thiru.Vi.Ka.Nagar.

Velachery has been carved out of areas from Tambaram constituency and parts of Mylapore. Virugambakkam includes parts of Villivakkam and Alandur constituencies. Kolathur has parts of Purasawalkam and Villivakkam. Thiru.Vi.Ka.Nagar is made up of portions of Perambur, Park Town, Purasawalkam and Egmore constituencies that existed in the previous Assembly elections.

During the earlier Assembly elections, electorate in constituencies such as Villivakkam was unwieldy. Villivakkam had around 9.4 lakh voters in 2006, which has reduced to 1.8 lakh now.

The delimitation has also ensured that the number of electors in the constituencies of the city range from 1.4 lakh to 2.2 lakh.

Of the 3,225 polling stations in the city, 1,473 polling stations have the number of voters ranging from 901 to 1,200.

The Kolathur constituency has eight polling stations with over 1,500 electors. According to voters, proximity to polling booths has played a crucial role in driving them to vote.

A. J. Chandilyan, a resident of Kolathur, said that last time, residents of SRB Nagar had to travel two km to vote in a booth at Korattur.

V.R.Varadharajan, a senior citizen and resident of Mylapore, said that many senior citizens in a locality were unwilling to vote as the polling booth was located on an interior road. “The ramps provided for elderly and the persons with disability in the last elections were not of much use as it was steep,” he added.

The delimitation exercise has brought cheer among residents of the southern suburbs of Chennai. Four persons will represent the areas in the Legislative Assembly now. Sholinganallur and Pallavaram are the two new constituencies created after bifurcating Tambaram and Alandur segments.

Creating awareness

Some complained that there has been no awareness this time of the option of rule 49(O) that enables voters to exercise the option of not casting their vote.

S. N. Chellaswamy, General Secretary of Tamil Nadu Senior Citizens Voters' Forum, said the forum has started encouraging senior citizens to vote. Many non-governmental organisations are busy conducting awareness programmes and distributing pamphlets to encourage residents to cast votes.

M.G. Devasahayam, convener, Forum for Electoral Integrity, said the forum's aim was to combat the mass corruption or bribery being encouraged through manifestoes promising freebies for votes.

The Gandhian Integrated Forum Trust on Sunday conducted a rally at the Marina for creating awareness of the Gandhian Perspective on Elections. Former Chief Electoral Officer Naresh Gupta was among those who participated. The participants urged the candidates to refrain from serving liquor and distributing money to voters during elections.

Fifth Pillar, a voluntary organisation, is targeting first-time voters primarily. A. Subramani, director- operations,

Fifth Pillar, said that besides meetings for residents about their role in democracy, the organisation also conducts open house for students.

In a bid to motivate the north-Indian community in the city to exercise their right, the Rajasthan Youth Association has initiated a campaign for the first time. Association president Sanjay Bhansali said, “We are encouraging people to vote to catch the attention of the political parties and find a remedy for their grievances.”

Making a choice

First-time voters who have decided to participate in the elections have several questions they want answers to. Concerns about corruption top the list and they are sceptical about their parents' choice of candidates. They would rather seek guidance from peers.

S.J.T. Raslin says voters sometimes tend to support candidates they are familiar with irrespective of the candidate's performance in previous terms. “They know he has done nothing much for them but people still vote for him. Corruption is an issue we talk about among friends,” he said.

On political parties shifting from one alliance to another, he said: “The party I had chosen to vote for has joined an alliance that is not to my liking. I am now undecided about voting.”

Tiwari Dinesh R.K., a student, will vote in Tirupattur. “I am following the manifestoes of the political parties and will vote for the candidate who will ensure that the laws are strictly enforced,” he says.

Archana Seker believes that getting the voter's ID card has given her the space and the need to understand the election process. “I have been involved in discussions held by volunteer groups and youth collectives. Personally I would like to see a better mental health programme is in place,” said the student, involved in activities of some NGOs.

M. Niharika's parents are regular voters but they do not discuss politics at home. “I am not well informed to make a choice. As a final-year student, I have to focus on higher studies now,” she said.

(With inputs from Aloysius Xavier Lopez, K. Lakshmi, R. Sujatha and K. Manikandan)

What they say

G. Balaji, student of Guru Nanak College, first-time voter:Voting is an empowering moment. I have decided not to let anyone including my parents influence my choice. I am cynical about existing parties, so I am trying to find out more about new candidates. I hope I can vote and bring the right candidate into power. I still don’t know how exactly the voting machine works, but I will learn it on the day of voting.

A. Subramani, Director (operations), Fifth Pillar: We create awareness among first time voters about their role in choosing the right candidate. The organisation has conducted meetings in 15 colleges so far and has received good response. Voters can make their choice after learning the details about candidates and their assets. We also conduct meetings for residents. We provide them information about model code of conduct and how they are authorised to report about the violations. They are also briefed about helplines to call to voice grievances.

D. Karthikeyan, District Election Officer and Corporation Commissioner: Efforts towards expenditure monitoring in the Assembly elections have gained priority. But efforts are also being taken to avoid harassment of the common man who carries cash for valid reasons. People have to exercise caution when they carry cash and should have adequate documents with them. The District Election Office will also take measures to address grievances of the public during the screening of vehicles for movement of goods and cash.