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What next for Tamil Nadu after R.K. Nagar?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 10-04-2017 Dharani Thangavelu

Chennai: The cancellation of the byelection to the R.K. Nagar assembly seat in Tamil Nadu may have temporarily halted the turf war between the two factions of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), as well as the dreams of the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK).

But it has given the people of Tamil Nadu no respite from the state of political chaos that set in with the death of chief minister J. Jayalalithaa on 5 December.

With cash seizures and complaints of cash for votes, the byelection necessitated by Jayalalithaa’s death and scheduled for 12 April, was cancelled late on Sunday by the Election Commission (EC).

The EC said that income tax authorities informed it that several complaints had been received indicating state health minister C. Vijayabaskar’s involvement in allegedly bribing R.K. Nagar voters.

“Some loose sheets were found with his (Vijayabaskar’s) accountant Srinivasan, indicating distribution of Rs89 crore to a number of politicians for further distribution among the voters,” the EC order said.

Some of the documents that were leaked after raids on properties belonging to the minister and others revealed the alleged involvement of seven senior leaders—members of the election working committee of AIADMK Amma, as the faction led by V.K. Sasikala is called—including chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami.

The EC added that the search and seizure action by the income tax authorities had resulted in “unraveling a huge and systematic design to distribute money to voters in order to induce/bribe them to influence their voting behaviour”.

The cancellation comes as a fresh crisis for the ruling party, already in a shambles. From Sasikala’s sudden appointment as general secretary of the party, her bid to become the chief minister of Tamil Nadu just days before the Supreme Court restored her conviction in a disproportionate assets case, claims by former chief minister O. Panneerselvam that he was forced to resign and his suspicions around Jayalalithaa’s hospitalization followed by her death, the lodging of over 100 legislators in a resort on the outskirts of Chennai, to installing Palaniswami as chief minister—the series of events have all gone to add to the chaos in the state’s politics.

The EC’s suspicions of the ruling party’s involvement in bribery just add to the confusion.

Analysts had earlier said that the AIADMK faction that won the byelection would be in a position to either lead the party unchallenged or bring it together. Now, the general view is that the delayed election would be double-edged sword for the AIADMK Amma faction. Though it gives it time to consolidate its grip over the party, it will be hard-pressed to shake off the embarrassment.

The AIADMK Amma faction’s candidate for R.K. Nagar—T. T. V. Dinakaran—called the EC decision a “conspiracy”.

M.K. Stalin, working president of the DMK, said that the EC had been unable to curb cash distribution despite huge deployment of observers and flying squads, and called for a Central Bureau of Investigation probe against the chief minister and his team.

Former United Progressive Alliance finance minister P. Chidambaram tweeted: “We were told demonetization has put an end to black money. Was money distributed in R.K. Nagar white money?”

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