Polling in Tamil Nadu proceeds smoothly, sporadic violence in Kerala
Sporadic incidents of violence marred elections in Kerala while polling in neighbouring Tamil Nadu was underway smoothly even as Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) chief Kamal Haasan alleged money distribution in Coimbatore and filed a complaint with the local returning officer.
Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry are being held in a single phase on Tuesday. The polling coincides with the third and the last phase of balloting in Assam. The third of the eight-phase elections in West Bengal is also being held on Tuesday. Nearly 100 million voters were eligible to vote on Tuesday to elect 475 assembly members across four states and the Union territory of Puducherry. It is the biggest election day since the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The results of the assembly elections will be announced on May 2.
Mohammed Ashraf Kalathil, a presiding officer in Payyanur constituency in Kerala’s Kannur, was hospitalised after ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), activists allegedly attacked him for preventing a man from voting without an identity document. The voting was stopped for half an hour and another officer was appointed to replace Kalathil.
The ruling party workers also allegedly manhandled Abdul Rasheed, the Opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) candidate, from Adoor.
A 65-year-old man and a 75-year-old woman waiting to vote in Pathanamthitta and Kottayam districts collapsed and died in Kerala, where 52.41% turnout was recorded by noon despite the soaring temperatures.
The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala seeks to buck the trend of political parties swapping power every five years and return for a historic second consecutive term by beating the UDF. Roughly 27 million people were eligible to vote in the state, where 957 candidates are contesting 140 seats.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan expressed confidence that the LDF would be voted back to power. “I have full faith in the people, who are with the Left,” he said. He added the ruling front would get more seats than it had won in the 2016 assembly polls and register a historical win.
Vijayan said the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s account in Nemom, the only seat it won in the 2016 polls, will be closed.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance seeks to increase its tally in the state and has named Metro Man E Sreedharan as its chief ministerial candidate.
In a month-long campaign, political parties in Kerala clashed on contentious issues including allegations of gold smuggling against some officials in the chief minister’s office and the controversy around the entry of all women into the Sabarimala Temple.
Vijayan said the devotees of Lord Ayyappa, Sabarimala presiding deity, and all other gods will be with the LDF.
Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said devotees will not forgive the Left Front, which will face the wrath of Lord Ayyappa. Congress leader A K Antony sought Vijayan’s apology.
BJP and Hindu organisations protested against the LDF government’s move to implement the 2018 Supreme court verdict allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the hill shrine at Sabarimala. Women in the 10-50 age group have traditionally been barred from worshipping there.
The by-poll to Malappuram Lok Sabha necessitated by the resignation of P K Kunhalikutty, who is contesting to the state assembly, is also being held.
In Tamil Nadu, Haasan, whose party is contesting assembly elections for the first time, said tokens were also being given in Coimbatore to be redeemed for articles and hinted that he may file a complaint on the matter.
Chief electoral officer Satyabrata Sahoo said a few Electronic Voting Machine glitches in Tamil Nadu were attended to immediately and that the polling was going on smoothly across the state. “Free and fair polls are on,” he said. Sahoo added there have been no complaints and that observers and zonal parties were monitoring the polling exercise.
Sahoo promised immediate action in case of any problem and added no untoward incident has been reported so far.
A 53.55% turnout till 3pm was recorded in the state, where over 62 million were eligible to vote.
People begun queuing up to vote much before polling began at 7 am with Covid-19 protocols in place. The Covid-19 patients will be allowed to vote in the last hour of the polling in Personal Protection Equipment kits.
Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami voted at Siluvampalayam in his native Salem district. “I request (all) to perform our democratic duty,” he told reporters.
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president M K Stalin paid homage at the mausoleum of his father and late former chief minister M Karunanidhi and the party founder, CN Annadurai, before voting.
Tamil Nadu has 88,937 polling stations. As many as 4,17,521 polling and over 15,00,00 security personnel have been deployed to conduct the polls. The EC has declared 10,813 polling stations vulnerable and 537 critical. Webcasting was being done from 50% of the polling stations.
Actor Vijay publicist clarified that he cycled to vote because of parking issues after sparking speculation that he did so in view of fuel price rise.
The election to the 234-member Tamil Nadu assembly is the first since the death of two stalwarts and former chief ministers, M Karunanidhi (DMK) and J Jayalalithaa of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
The DMK-led alliance is looking to unseat the AIADMK government after being out of power for 10 years.
Tamil Nadu has a million more women voters than men, even though women representation in candidature is less than 10% for the main political parties.
In Puducherry, where around 330 booths were identified as vulnerable, brisk polling was reported since the morning despite soaring temperatures.
Over a million voters were eligible to vote for 324 candidates contesting the 30-assembly seats. The Union Territory slipped into a political crisis shortly before the elections were announced when the Congress-led government fell due to defections.
(With PTI inputs)