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Cash, Lamps, Saris For Votes: Why Chennai’s RK Nagar By-Poll Was Scrapped

NEW DELHI: The 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 bribed with cash and gifts. A detailed “payment plan” of 89 crores 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 examine the validity of her appointment as interim general secretary of AIADMK, which was challenged by Jayalalithaa loyalist O Panneerselvam. The Election Commission has at least three months to do so as the RK Nagar by-poll is likely only after that, say sources.

Ms Sasikala is serving a four-year jail sentence for corruption and appointed her nephew TTV Dinakaran as deputy general secretary before going to prison in February.

To buy votes for Mr Dinakaran, the Sasikala faction’s candidate in RK Nagar, ministers — including Mr Vijayabaskar, Chief Minister E Palaniswami, Forest Minister Dindigul Sreenivasan and Finance Minister Jayakumar – were allegedly given targets, documents seized in raids indicate. The Chief Minister was allegedly tasked with distributing Rs. 13.27 crore to 33,000 voters.

The Election Commission’s order lists allegations of phone recharge coupons, newspaper subscriptions and milk tokens distributed among people. Money was allegedly transferred using mobile wallets and cash slipped in with newspapers and milk delivery. Workers were caught distributing hats, scarves, lamps and sarees.

Each voter was to be paid Rs. 4,000, said tax officials. The RK Nagar constituency is divided into 256 segments and the target was to reach out 85 per cent of the 2.6 lakh voters.

“Cancelling the by-election is a wrong decision,” said Mr Dinakaran, adding, “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 Jayalalithaa for two terms, and the battle for this constituency has become representative of the larger fight for the legacy of the leader popular as “Amma” to thousands of AIADMK workers.

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