Chennai: Following widespread allegations of money distribution by parties to voters, Elections Commission of India on Sunday cancelled the prestigious RK Nagar by-election.
As expected, the EC took the decision in order to uphold the integrity of the nation’s elections and democracy. Two days after the income tax department raided Tamil Nadu health minister Vijay Bhaskar and reportedly seized evidence of bribing voters, the election commission announced its decision to cancel the by-election to the RK Nagar constituency, scheduled on April 12. It attributed its decision to rampant voter bribing and corruption.
The by-elections in RK Nagar became necessary after the death of former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who represented it for two terms. Stakes for the by-polls were very high as the results would have been a verdict of sorts in the war between the two rival factions of the ruling AIADMK.
The by-election to fill the vacancy in RK Nagar "shall be held by the commission in due course when the vitiating effect created by the distribution of money and gift items to lure the electors gets removed with the passage of time, and the atmosphere in the constituency becomes conducive to the holding of free and fair election," said a 29-page statement signed by chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi and his two associates and election commissioners AK Joti and OP Rawat.
The EC's decision came after day-long deliberations in New Delhi. Tamil Nadu chief electoral officer Rajesh Lakhoni had been summoned to submit a report and so was the newly appointed special electoral officer Vikram Batea. The EC's sudden decision came two days after I-T sleuths launched extensive searches and raids on the residence and several houses of Vijayabaskar across Tamil Nadu. I-T officials told media representatives on Friday that the raids helped uncover a major plot to bribe voters. The documents unearthed showed that close to Rs 90 crore was to be distributed to voters in RK Nagar constituency by the AIADMKAmma party which fielded TTV Dhinakaran.
In its elaborate order, the commission said that considering its duty "to conduct free and fair elections and to uphold the purity of election and after taking into account all the facts and circumstances," it is satisfied that RK Nagar poll process has been "seriously vitiated". This was on account of unlawful activities of the candidates and political parties and their workers who bribed the electors and unlawfully induced them by offering money and other gifts of consumable items to woo them in their favour.
In the commission's considered opinion, allowing the current electoral process to proceed and conducting the poll in the constituency on April 12, as scheduled, in such vitiated atmosphere would severely jeopardise the conduct of free and fair election in the said constituency, said the statement.
Earlier too, in similar circumstances, the commission was constrained to rescind the 2016 assembly elections to the Aravakurichi and Thanjavur assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu, the EC noted.
"Before parting with the case, the commission cannot help expressing its anguish over the sordid state of affairs as revealed in the reports of the election expenditure observers, election expenditure monitoring teams, static surveillance teams, flying squad teams, video surveillance teams, as well as the reports of the income tax authorities," the statement said.
The innovative ways which the political parties and their leaders at the top echelons have devised to bypass the law enforcing authorities entrusted with the task of keeping an eye on the unauthorized and illegal expenses incurred in the conduct of election campaigns of their party candidates need to be dealt with, with a heavy hand, said the EC.