As the great marathon Indian election swings into its second phase on Thursday, the focus will be on its peaceful conduct to ensure that even the sporadic bursts of violence seen in the first phase are not repeated. The spotlight will be on functioning of EVMs. The EVM failure rate in the first phase was thought to be just over one per cent, but the delays and tension in queues tend to exaggerate the problem — which is why the EC must tend more carefully to the polling infrastructure’s backbone — which the machine is. The fuss many leaders are making over voting via EVMs can only lead to renewed doubts about the credibility of the electoral process itself.
The free distribution of money has been a vexatious issue that politicians rarely complain about, except when their opponents are caught doing it. Tamil Nadu seems the villain of the piece every time — after an Assembly bypoll in Thirumangalam 10 years ago set the gold standard in cash-for-votes. The problem has got so humongous now that the state is usually near the top in cash-for-votes seizures. It has also suffered the indignity of a Lok Sabha poll being cancelled, that is quite unprecedented. The whole of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, with the exception of Vellore, will go to the polls Thursday, with 39 Lok Sabha seats up for grabs. The state has played a role in government formation in several elections for a few decades upto 2009. The issues are the same, regardless of alliances formed, with the difference that the Assembly bypolls loom larger now than even the Lok Sabha elections.
It’s a question of survival for the Edappadi Palanisamy government, that has 114 MLAs in a House cut to 212 seats. The byelections to 18 seats Thursday and four other seats on May 19 hold the key to whether the rulers can survive an eight-year incumbency in the absence of the charismatic Jayalalithaa, their principal vote-getter. The DMK is without its patriarch M. Karunanidhi, but as a cadre-based party it has less reason to worry, even as opinion polls show a distinct bias in favour of the DMK-led alliance winning the bulk of Lok Sabha seats as well as in the Assembly bypolls.
The AIADMK’s pitch has been undermined by its ally BJP harping on the environmentally controversial Chennai-Salem expressway and the common medical entrance test NEET, both of which were vehemently opposed by Tamil Nadu’s people. The income-tax raids on political opponents, including DMK president J. Stalin’s sister Kanimozhi, may also have served to add grist to the theme that New Delhi has alienated Tamil Nadu. It will be a tough battle for the AIADMK-led alliance....