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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

(Published in on 19 April 2011, retrieved from

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Those who thought the war of words would end with the canvassing were in for a surprise, as Election Day came and went in Tamil Nadu, without much change in the behaviour of party leaders.

From the voter turnout to the attacks on AIADMK men, and even the gap between Election Day and Counting Day, politicians seem to believe every aspect of the Tamil Nadu polls involves a conspiracy.

What’s more, the vernacular papers believe they could be right! Even newspapers that were leargely considered neutral have taken up the torch for some cause, if not some party.

The Rs. 81 lakh heist

English newspapers reported on 16 April that a DMK functionary, R S Ramalingam, who claimed to be a papad trader unattached to any party, was being questioned after a poll panel intercepted his car and found details of money distributed to voters in a diary.

However, Tamil newspapers avoided reference to any party.

In an article titled ‘Money Money - CBI to conduct investigation in West Madurai’ published on April 18, the Tamil website of OneIndia said, “Having found evidence that more than Rs. 81 lakh rupees was used to bribe voters in the western part of Madurai, the CBI is conducting an investigation. Election officials and members of the Flying Squad have recovered Rs. 4 crore in a severe crackdown on malpractices during elections, in the ten constituencies of Madurai. Election officials found a diary in a car, containing records of voters having been bribed in 4 wards.”

The report goes on to say, “In the diary, it was written that up to Rs.81.20 lakh had been distributed among voters. Of this, Rs. 16.35 lakh for Ward 65, Rs. 18.96 lakh for Ward 66, Rs. 21.11 lakh for Ward 67 and Rs. 24.41 lakh for Ward 69 have already been distributed. The diary is now in the custody of the Collector, Sagayam. Police interrogated the two people travelling in the car. Based on the evidence collected, there could be repolling in Madurai.”

Dinathanthi quoted Tamil Nadu State Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar as saying, “Before the elections, the Election Commission received a complaint saying bribes were being given to voters in Madurai. Following this, Flying Squad officials did a check on vehicles in the area, and found a notebook in a car belonging to a party functionary.” The report did not mention the name of the party but cited other details, including the fact that a video was taken of the security check and the content of the notebook.

The report continues, “Praveen Kumar met officials to discuss this incident. They will wait for all the details before they decide whether to call for a repoll. We learn that Collector Sagayam will send his report to Praveen Kumar today. Sources in the know say the Election Commission has decided to send out a strong message, by declaring the Madurai polls invalid. However, Praveen Kumar denied knowledge of any such decision and said ‘I haven’t yet got the Collector’s report’.”

Dinamalar, in an article dated April 18, asking ‘Will there be a re-election in West Madurai?’ says, “there was a direct contest between the DMK and ADMK in West Madurai. There is a complaint that, of all the constituencies in Madurai, this was the one that saw most money distributed. Police have arrested a few people in connection with this. In a pre-poll interview, Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Kumar said, ‘If it is determined that voters were bribed, the votes will be declared invalid and repolling will be conducted’. The Election Commission now has proof that money was distributed in West Madurai, and is collecting further evidence. If these allegations are confirmed, there will be a re-election.”

Crunching the numbers: Will poll officials question you?

The voter turnout in Tamil Nadu, which is estimated at about 78 percent, took everyone by surprise.

While the pro-AIADMK media hailed this as a ‘silent revolution’ by people seeking change, the pro-DMK media lauded people for wanting to fight corruption by turning up in hordes to support the ruling government. Never mind the fact that A Raja, who introduced India to numbers previously encountered only in math papers, is a DMK ‘leader’.

But some sections of the vernacular media focused on why people had stayed away from the poll booths in certain constituencies. On April 16, Dinamalar in a rather bewildering article titled ‘Why didn’t 3.53 lakh people vote?’, figures that Tirupur and Kanyakumari could have had a 100 percent turnout if it weren’t for the intelligence, success, or vocation of the residents.

The article says that though Tirupur has more than 15 lakh registered voters, 3,53,892 people stayed away from the booths. The writer sets out to solve the mystery, after saying the numbers have confused politicians. The piece suggests that the High-Court-ordered closure of dyeing and bleaching units in Tirupur was one of the main reasons, as this has forced migrant workers to return home.

As proof, it offers up statistics that the north and southern constituencies of Tirupur, where these labourers live, recorded a lower turnout than the other areas. It doesn’t explain why migrants would be registered to vote in Tirupur.

By way of a solution, the writer wants election officials to figure out who has abstained from voting, hop over to their homes, and ask them (politely) why they didn’t vote. If they’re found to have left Tirupur, their names should be struck off the voters’ list.

“If only we had done this”, the writer laments, “we would have found the voter turnout was close to 90 percent”. He then says “by the time the next elections come round, we could even score a century!”

Another section of the article seeks to answer why educated people didn’t vote. Focusing on Kanyakumari, which recorded a 68.9 percent turnout, the article says “many teachers and government officials hail from here. They may have been posted elsewhere. Also, lots of people may have moved abroad, registered in the army or gone on vacation”. Sadly, doesn’t offer statistics to support this intriguing hypothesis.

Dinakaran, which is owned by the Maran family, has even more interesting reasons to explain the 4 lakh abstainees in Kanyakumari. While most media outlets saw the relatively low turnout as a protest against the state government’s inaction with regard to the alleged killings and capture of fishermen by the Sri Lankan navy, this paper claims most fishermen in Kanyakumari are from Gujarat or Kerala, and hence could not vote!

‘And we will look the other way, and whistle...’

Dinathanthi, on the other hand, chose to focus on the bright side of life. The paper was ecstatic that people had stood in queues, and that first-time voters cast their ballot with enthusiasm in Erode.

In an article dated April 14, the paper first revels in the fact that Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) reached the booth a day in advance. This is only a prelude to the paper’s euphoria over voters turning up early (by an hour).

In reading the piece, one might be led to believe a Utopia of sorts was created here, as the writer praises election officials for handing out booth slips for those who hadn’t received them, and the voters for having a brainwave – they turned to trees for shade as pandals hadn’t been put up.

After eulogising men for turning up in larger numbers than women and senior citizens, and young women for voting, the author all but wells up as he commends policemen and other security forces for turning up and “fiercely guarding the voters”.

Meanwhile, the DMK mouthpiece Murasoli chose to blissfully ignore in-state events and focus its reportage, rather bizarrely, on the West Bengal elections.

Who’s got the sickles out?

Dinamani, in a 16 April article titled ‘Jayalalithaa condemns attacks on AIADMK members’ begins with the quote, “I strongly condemn the continuing attacks by the DMK on the AIADMK workers who spotted and reported the malpractices, code violations, and manipulative moves by DMK workers during the Assembly Elections.”

The quote continues for the rest of the article. Saying the DMK was scared of losing, Jayalalithaa is reported to have accused the DMK of attacking voters as well as AIADMK workers with “terrible weapons” after finding out that people were voting against the DMK in Madurai and Melur.

Unwilling to let an opportunity for caste-based votes slip – well, just in case there’s a repoll – Jayalalithaa said two ADMK workers from the Devar community were injured in the ensuing fracas. She then claimed the DMK was issuing death threats and damaging vehicles parked outside the workers’ houses as a warning.

Somehow, the technique is reminiscent of Jack Woltz waking up to find the severed head of his racehorse Khartoum in The Godfather.

Alleging that the police was controlled by Karunanidhi’s family, Jayalalithaa said the police had refused to register a complaint when AIADMK member Anbu was beaten up in Thoothukudi.

She closed her speech by requesting the Election Commission to come down on the DMK with an iron hand, and asked for protection for her candidate Senthilnathan, who is contesting from Aravakurichi in Karur, as he has received death threats from Pazhaniswamy, whom she describes as “a sand mining mogul”.

Nakkeeran said Senthilnathan had been granted armed protection from the police after he filed a complaint, saying, “I, the ADMK candidate from Aravakurichi, was given death threats over my cell phone by some people.”

Dinakaran’s only lead story on ADMK workers was published on 17 April, under the captivating headline ‘Police exhume the body of an ADMK worker who was buried without their knowledge’.

The report reads like a mystery story: “Chinnapayyan, who hails from near Vepanahalli in Krishnagiri district went home after election duty on April 13 to sleep. He was found hanging the next morning at 5 am, and relatives buried him without informing the police. His wife Jayalakhsmi and he have 3 children. Village Administrative Officer Thangaraj informed the police about this. Having registered a case, police spoke to Jayalakshmi, who couldn’t answer the questions properly. The body was exhumed in the presence of the Tahsildar. Samples have been sent for testing.”

Note that the paper doesn’t specify whether the VAO informed the police about the death or the three children.

Dinathanthi, which is largely perceived as pro-DMK, seemed to have revised its stance in an article titled ‘Jayalalithaa pleads for action as vengeant attacks continue on ADMK workers’. After quoting Jayalalithaa’s allegations, the paper doesn’t judge her when it cites her saying, “I was deeply saddened to hear that Roopini, who hails from Kovai and was waiting for her husband to return home so that they could vote for the double-leaf symbol together, committed suicide as her husband arrived from office too late for them to cast their vote.”

In another article, which had an almost identical headline – ‘Vijaykanth pleads for action as vengeant attacks scare DMDK workers’ – the paper quoted Jayalalithaa’s ally as saying his partymen were being attacked with sickles and knives. Without mentioning the name of the party, the report says people from another party attacked DMDK Branch Secretary Vasanthavelu’s house in Vedasandhur and burnt an auto waiting outside, and in Dharmapuri, killed DMDK functionary Ashokan.

What does the DMK intend to do till May 13?

According to Jayalalithaa, as quoted in the website 4TamilMedia, the ruling party plans to avenge its impending defeat before it happens.

In an article titled ‘The month-long delay is only to take revenge on the people: Jayalalithaa’, the site quotes the former Chief Minister saying that, as the DMK’s only responsibility is to maintain law and order in the interim period, the party is using all its power to attack ADMK workers, and the people who turned up in large numbers to vote for change.

After citing several attacks on her partymen as proof, Jayalalithaa says, “When a rowdy gang is ruling Tamil Nadu, there’s no point expecting the law to restrain rowdies and round up armed gangs”, and calls for the Election Commission to intervene and maintain peace in the state.

Burning leaders in effigy: A Congress tradition?

While the DMK and Congress spent most of the lead-up to the Tamil Nadu elections sulking over their lovers’ tiff, the TNCC has had its own internal scuffles. First, EVKS Elangovan’s supporters protested against his exclusion from a poll negotiation panel during seat-sharing talks. Then came the controversy over Thangkabalu expelling party workers for ‘anti-party activities’.

On Monday, Dinamani reported that Youth Congress workers burnt Thangkabalu in effigy in Mylapore. The report points out that the location was quite close to a protest Thangkabalu himself was heading, against the killing of Tamil fishermen in Sri Lanka.

Some English papers pointed out that these Congress workers were only maintaining a tradition of burning their leaders in effigy - G K Moopanar, M P Subramaniam, and Vazhapadi Ramamurthy had received similar honours while serving as TNCC chiefs.

The website Makkal Murasu and Dinakaran were more interested in the arrest of Thangkabalu and 300 of his supporters over the protest against the killings of fishermen than his – umm, trial by fire, shall we say?


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