Be it in Tenkasi in the south or those parts of Kancheepuram and Chengalpattu districts which are closer to Chennai, money power permeates the system.
A senior functionary of a major party in a northern district says he has come across reports of presidents of village panchayats spending up to ₹1 crore during the elections. The talk in political circles is that allurement can be as high as ₹7,000 a voter. “Some people have turned the rural local bodies elections into a grand festival with lavish spending,” quips an office-bearer of another party in Tenkasi.
In the south, candidates for village panchayat president, a post that is being contested on non-party lines, have planned to spend up to ₹50 lakh each, he says. The sum includes ₹500 per person for food, liquor and cash for being part of the crowd that accompanies the candidates during campaign every day. And, at least, 15-50 persons are always seen with them in the last few days. “We still don’t know how much money they are going to distribute to the voters,” the political leader adds.
When asked for reaction, an official of the State Election Commission says he will have surveillance intensified in general and in areas around Chennai in particular. In a release issued on Thursday, the Commission said that till September 28, election officials seized, among others, ₹33.9 lakh in cash, 16.4 kg of sandalwood and 1,009 liquor bottles.
The money factor is not the only dimension to the elections. Long-standing issues in the nine districts going to the polls do figure in the political discourse. In Kancheepuram, a symbol of culture and temple architecture, voters expect their representatives to promote spiritual tourism with a better bus link to Chennai and provide civic amenities. The link with Chennai’s prominent places — T. Nagar, Broadway and Koyambedu — is still lacking.
People of Chengalpattu, largely into farming, want the elected bodies to have more check-dams built across the Palar. A check-dam at Udhayambakkam-Padalam, a long-pending demand, will meet the agricultural needs of over 25 villages, points out Murali Mohan, a cane farmer, appreciating the initiatives of Chief Minister M.K. Stalin in the water sector.
A host of socio-economic problems continues to plague Villupuram and Kallakurichi districts, where acute unemployment has caused the outmigration of youth in droves. Water scarcity is becoming another major problem in these districts. In several rural parts of Vellore, Ranipet and Tirupattur districts, the availability of amenities such as good roads, street-lights, primary health centres, water supply, frequent bus services and uninterrupted power supply still remains a distant dream. “Better roads, especially those of bitumen, to reach the foothills and an ambulance service are major demands for our residents,” says S. Udayakumar, coordinator, Jawadhu Hills Tribal Residents Welfare Federation.
( With inputs from S. Sundar in Madurai, R. Srikanth in Kancheepuram, S. Prasad in Cuddalore, and D. Madhavan in Vellore )