The stage is set for the bye-election to the Tamil Nadu assembly from Pennagaram on March 27, with the main contest between DMK and AIADMK, amid trading of charges between parties and complaints of distribution of money to voters.

Leaders including DMK president and Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, AIADMK chief J. Jayalalithaa, PMK founder S. Ramadoss and Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) leader Vijayakant made a whirlwind tour of the water-starved constituency for campaigning which drew to a close on Thursday.

At poll meetings, party leaders focused on the multi—crore Hogenakkal water project of which Dharmapuri district, where Pennagaram is located, is one of the beneficiaries. The DMK also highlighted its achievements and slammed AIADMK for not having developed the constituency while in power.

On the other hand, the AIADMK and PMK flayed the government for not having taking up the project in right earnest.

While Ms. Jayalalithaa assured the voters of implementing the Japan—funded water project, which has reportedly hit a roadblock following Karnataka’s objection to Tamil Nadu drawing water from Cauvery for the purpose, on a war—footing if she came to power next year, after assembly polls, Mr. Ramadoss wanted the project’s actual status with proof.

However, Deputy Chief Minister M. K. Stalin assured that the project was on course and predicted a massive win for the DMK in the Pennagaram constituency which has over two lakh voters.

Opposition parties have alleged that the ruling DMK had indulged in large—scale violation of model code of conduct and involved in corrupt practices to woo the voters, a charge denied by the party.

The Election Commission is keeping a close watch on the activities of the parties and the State’s Chief Electoral Officer Naresh Gupta has announced that DMK, AIADMK and PMK, have sums ranging between Rs. four lakh to Rs. six lakh not included in their poll expenses.

‘It is noticed that for the campaigning by the VIPs, a large number of cut—outs, arches and lights are put up and the expenditure on this will be worked out based on the vide—recording done and added to the expenditure account. The two EC observers are monitoring this closely,” Mr. Gupta said.

The EC has already undertaken videographing of campaigning even as charges and counter—charges of money distribution by PMK and DMK are on. The Commission had directed Chief Secretary K. S. Sripathi to take immediate and effective action to prevent distribution of liquor, money, saris and dhotis to woo voters, Gupta said.

The bye-election was necessitated due to the death of DMK MLA P. N. Periannan, whose son P. N. Inbasekaran is the party’s candidate. T. R. Anbazhagan is AIADMK’s nominee.It was originally scheduled for January 20, but was rescheduled after various parties said the campaign dates clashed with Pongal festivities.

Later, some parties alleged violations by DMK and the party chief Karunanidhi doubted EC’s unbiased functioning. UPA MPs from the state led by DMK’s Parliamentary Party leader T. R. Baalu met the EC demanding that the bye-election be held immediately.