Local rural elections also seem no exception to the threat of money power
Whether in Tenkasi in the south or in the parts of the Kancheepuram and Chengalpattu districts closer to Chennai, money power permeates the system.
A senior official from a large party in a northern district says he has come across reports of village panchayat presidents spending up to yen 1 billion during the election. It is said in political circles that the pull can be as high as 7,000 yen per voter. “Some people made the district elections a big party with lavish expenses,” jokes an official from another party in Tenkasi.
In the south, candidates for the village Panchayat president, a non-party contested post, have planned to spend up to 50 lakh each, he says. The total includes 500 per person for food, alcohol and cash to be part of the crowd accompanying the candidates each day during the campaign. And after all, 15-50 people have been seen with them in the last few days. “We still don’t know how much money they will give out to the voters,” added the political leader.
When asked for a response, a state election commission official said he would step up surveillance in general, and in the Chennai area in particular. In a notice released on Thursday, the commission said that by September 28, election officials had confiscated 33.9 lakh yen in cash, 16.4 kg of sandalwood and 1,009 liquor bottles, among other things.
The money factor is not the only dimension of the elections. In the nine electoral districts, long-standing issues are incorporated into the political discourse. In Kancheepuram, a symbol of culture and temple architecture, voters expect their MPs to promote spiritual tourism with better bus connections to Chennai and provide urban amenities. The connection to the prominent places of Chennais – T. Nagar, Broadway and Koyambedu – is still missing.
The people of Chengalpattu, who mainly do agriculture, want the elected bodies to build more dams over the Palar. A check dam in Udhayambakkam-Padalam, a demand that has been pending for a long time, will meet the agricultural needs of over 25 villages, says Murali Mohan, a sugar cane farmer, recognizing Prime Minister MK Stalin’s initiatives in the water sector.
A variety of socio-economic problems continue to be plagued by a wide variety of socio-economic problems in Villupuram and Kallakurichi districts, where acute unemployment has led to the outflow of young people. Water scarcity is becoming another major problem in these counties. In several rural parts of the Vellore, Ranipet and Tirupattur counties, the availability of amenities such as good roads, street lights, primary health centers, water supplies, frequent bus services and uninterruptible power supply still remain a distant dream. “Better roads, especially bitumen roads to reach the foothills, and an ambulance service are a big demand for our residents,” says S. Udayakumar, coordinator of the Jawadhu Hills Tribal Residents Welfare Federation.
(With contributions from S. Sundar in Madurai, R. Srikanth in Kancheepuram, S. Prasad in Cuddalore and D. Madhavan in Vellore)