Polling began at 7 am in the last leg of assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry on Monday.
The assembly elections will decide the fate of chief ministers Jayalalithaa and Oommen Chandy, and their arch rivals and nonagenarians M Karunanidhi and VS Achutanandan in multi-cornered contests in their states.
Counting of votes in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry -- where rival candidates fought a gruelling two-month campaign in peak summer along with West Bengal and Assam -- will be taken up on May 19 to decide the outcome of what is being described as ‘mini’ general elections.
The BJP is seeking to make inroads in Tamil Nadu and Kerala where power has oscillated between the AIADMK, the DMK and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the CPI-M led Left Democratic Front(LDF) respectively for decades.
Voting begins in Tamil Nadu, Rajinikanth casts his vote in Chennai's Stella Maris College pic.twitter.com/WNGGG14xoH— ANI (@ANI_news) May 16, 2016
It is amid a campaign against misuse of money that Tamil Nadu’s 5.82 crore voters will get a chance to exercise their franchise on Monday to elect 233 members to the assembly. A total of 3,776 candidates are in fray, including 320 women and two belonging to the third gender. The total number of polling stations is over 65,600.
The Election Commission had deferred the process in Aravakurichi segment in Karur district of Tamil Nadu to May 23 due to “unlawful” activities of candidates in “bribing” voters. Counting of votes in Aravakurichi will be taken up on May 25.
Authorities have seized more than Rs 100 crore unaccounted cash in the state, the largest among the five states involved in the assembly polls.
In all there are four chief ministerial candidates, AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa, DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi, PWF-DMDK-TMC combine choice film star-turned-politician Vijayakanth and Pattali Makkal Katchi’s Anbumani Ramadoss, a former union health minister.
But the fight is essentially between the two Dravidian majors – the AIADMK and the DMK. J jayalalithaaa is virtually going at it alone, barring a couple of minor allies, whereas the DMK has teamed up with its trusted old ally, the Congress and few other regional parties.
More than a lakh police and paramilitary personnel would man over 65,000 polling booths across Tamil Nadu, which is witnessing a multi-cornered contest also featuring BJP that is seeking to make a mark along with a few minor allies.
Jayalalithaa, seeking a second successive term in office, and Karunanidhi, eyeing to lead DMK to power after back-to-back drubbings in the 2011 assembly and 2014 Lok Sabha elections, are contesting from RK Nagar in Chennai and Thiruvarur respectively.
RK Nagar has the maximum number of candidates at 45, with DMK (Shimla Muthuchozhan) and VCK (Vasanthi Devi) also fielding women nominees to take on Jayalalithaa. BJP’s MN Raja is also in the fray.
BJP’s candidates include its national secretary H Raja and state president Tamilisai Sounderrajan.
Positioning itself as a viable third front, the combine of DMDK, People’s Welfare Front comprising Vaiko’s MDMK, CPI-M, CPI and VCK and Tamil Maanila Congress led by GK Vasan has also attacked both DMK and AIADMK, that have ruled the state alternately in recent decades, and pushed for a change.
Tamil Nadu is known to generally elect one clear winner from the two Dravidian giants -- DMK and AIADMK -- since 1967.
In Kerala, the ruling UDF and LDF, which had gone hammer and tongs at each other during the electioneering, are keeping their fingers crossed even as BJP is hoping to get a toe-hold.
A total of 1,203 candidates, including 109 women, are contesting for the 140 assembly seats.
In Puducherry, the battle is between two Congress parties – the one led by Sonia Gandhi and the breakaway party led by N Rangasamy, who is the chief minister. There are a total of 334 candidates in fray including 21 women.