The Hindu explains: From Kulbhushan Jadhav to Chennai’s R.K. Nagar

Where is R.K. Nagar, the Chennai constituency where a byelection is called off

Until late last week in Tamil Nadu, it seemed all roads led to R.K. Nagar.

That’s because the Dr. Radhakrishnan Nagar, or R.K. Nagar, constituency in north Chennai was expected to go to the polls. But the Election Commission (EC) rescinded the byelection just two days before polling, after raids by the Income Tax department revealed largescale distribution of cash for votes.

The byelection was necessitated by the death of Jayalalithaa, who was elected from the constituency in 2016. She had won from the seat in a 2015 byelection, after her acquittal by the Karnataka High Court in the disproportionate assets case.

What happened?

In February, after he stepped down as Chief Minister, O. Panneerselvam rebelled against Jayalalithaa’s confidante V.K. Sasikala, claiming that he was forced to resign.

The AIADMK split into two factions, leading to an unending political drama with leaders of both factions vying to retain control over the MLAs. The Panneerselvam faction approached the Election Commission, claiming that Sasikala’s appointment as interim general secretary of the AIADMK was illegal.

It also laid claim to the party’s two leaves symbol. The other group, headed by Sasikala’s nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran who was appointed deputy general secretary after she was jailed, also wanted the symbol. After a hearing, the EC froze the symbol and allotted alternate symbols to the factions and imposed restrictions on the use of the name AIADMK.

Mr. Panneerselvam’s faction chose to identify itself as AIADMK (Puratchi Thalaivi Amma), while Mr. Dhinakaran, who announced his candidature for the byelection, chose to call his group AIADMK (Amma).

What’s the problem?

Looking for a mandate to lay claim to Jayalalithaa’s legacy and to establish themselves as her true political heir, both camps brought in party cadre from across Tamil Nadu to R.K. Nagar.

Within a few days, the constituency was no longer a run-down place with potholed roads, and inadequate drinking water.

The atmosphere turned festive overnight. For two weeks, every entertainment tactic was employed with dance troops, road shows of political leaders, songs blaring from speakers at almost every street corner.

Simultaneously, the run-up to the election was marked by allegations of largescale voter bribing, with the AIADMK factions accusing each other of paying out money. Members of the two camps also fought pitched battles, leaving many injured.

Mr. Panneerselvam’s camp accused the Sasikala faction of paying ₹4,000 to each voter. The DMK also faced the same charge.

A video reportedly shot by a resident showing a party worker paying money to voters asking them to vote for Mr. Dhinakaran made its way to the social media.

On April 8, the Income Tax Department conducted raids at the house of Health Minister Vijaya Baskar and a few others. Later, the Election Commission said the tax authorities had informed it that he was the key person involved in bribing the voters.

Documents found during the raids revealed that ₹89 crore was reportedly distributed to voters.

The Election Commission said despite many surveillance teams in the area, parties had resorted to large-scale bribing. It rescinded the byelection.

What next?

This is the third such instance — after Thanjavur and Aravakuruchi — that the Election Commission has cancelled an election in Tamil Nadu. The polls were conducted in these two constituencies within the mandatory six-month period and the same candidates were allowed to contest. Indications are that the elections to R.K. Nagar could be put off for a year. According to the Representation of the People Act, 1950, the mandatory six- month period will not apply if the “Election Commission, in consultation with the Central government, certifies that it is difficult to hold the byelection within the said period.”

The other important question experts ask is, under such circumstances, will the Election Commission allow the same candidates to contest or will it set an example by barring those found guilty of voter-bribing.

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Printable version | Nov 24, 2020 1:41:09 AM |

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