New Delhi: A high-stakes by-election in Chennai’s RK Nagar constituency was cancelled by the Election Commission just three days before voting on Wednesday, over allegations of voters being offered incentives in the form of cash and gifts. A detailed “payment plan” of 89 crores, allegedly to buy votes, was revealed in raids on Friday on state Health Minister C Vijayabaskar, accused of working for the VK Sasikala faction of the ruling AIADMK.
Sources say in more trouble for Ms Sasikala, who is in jail for corruption, the Election Commission will now examine the validity of her appointment as interim general secretary of the ruling AIADMK – which was challenged by Jayalalithaa loyalist O Panneerselvam.
The Election Commission has at least three months, as a new date of polling is likely only after that, say sources.
According to the election body, there is evidence that phone recharge coupons, newspaper subscriptions and milk tokens were distributed among people. Money was allegedly transferred using mobile wallets. Cash was allegedly slipped in with newspapers and milk delivery. Hats, scarves, lamps and sarees were distributed.
“Cancelling the by-election is a wrong decision,” said TTV Dinakaran, AIADMK’s general secretary and the candidate of the Sasikala faction, which has been accused of launching a mega cash-for-votes plan through its ministers in the constituency.
Mr Dinakaran, who is Ms Sasikala’s nephew, added, “Maybe the Election Commission doesn’t want me to win. They can only delay, not deny our victory. We will win.”
RK Nagar was represented by former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, who died in December, and the poll battle for this constituency has become representative of the larger fight for the legacy of the leader who was popular as “Amma” to thousands of AIADMK workers.
Income Tax officials have alleged that the Sasikala faction paid 89 crores to voters for Mr Dinakaran. Taxmen say they have seized documents that include detailed payment charts for voters. Each voter was supposed to be paid Rs. 4,000. The constituency is divided into 256 segments and the target was to reach out 85 per cent of the 2.6 lakh voters.
Ministers — including Mr Vijayabaskar, Chief Minister E Palaniswami, Forest Minister Dindigul Sreenivasan and Finance Minister Jayakumar – were allegedly given targets, the documents indicated. The Chief Minister was allegedly tasked with distributing Rs. 13.27 crore to 33,000 voters.
The Sasikala faction has denied the allegations.