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The notes behind how Tamil Nadu votes

By A Ganesh Nadar and Saisuresh Sivaswamy
May 16, 2016 18:26 IST
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In a lot of ways, Tamil Nadu votes exactly as do other states.
But at places there are crucial's A Ganesh Nadar and Saisuresh Sivaswamy find out what the differences are.

IMAGE: People line up early morning to cast their vote in Chennai. Photograph: PTI

It had rained the previous night, so the morning of May 16, 2016, was cooler than it normally is at this time of the year in Chennai. The Indian Meteorological Department had also said there would be showers through the day.

From 7 am Monday, it has been raining votes across the state, too, with citizens lining up at polling booths.

Interestingly, the weather gods were not the only ones to be munificent; party bosses everywhere, too, had been more than kind to their voters, it seems.

When we visited Kasimedu, a seaside fishing enclave in Radhakrishnan Nagar, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa's constituency, it was a sight that would warm the cockles of State Election Commissioner Rajesh Lakhoni's heart. The polling booth saw a brisk turnout, a police vehicle placed strategically at the gate, and khaki very much visible on the roadside.

This was the scene at polling booth after polling booth.

Polling agents were seated at tables, and stalls, beyond the mandated distance of 100 metres from the booths, helping voters find their names on the voting slips, guiding them to the school to cast their vote.

It is a sight that is seen in every city, every state, in every election, nothing unusual about it.

But what makes the exercise unusual in Tamil Nadu, where the electoral process has become synonymous with notes for votes, is that in many places there is more than mere voting slips being handed out to the voters.

IMAGE: A police car outside a polling booth in Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa's constituency Radhakrishnan Nagar, North Chennai. Photograph: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/

At one of the tables we saw a man come and plonk himself on a chair with a big purple plastic bag. A party worker came up to him, but no words were exchanged. The man put his hand inside the bag and took out a quarter bottle of alcohol. Three men were handed out a bottle each even as the crowds were busy looking for their names on the voting slips.

Given that the last three days, including Monday, were dry days in Tamil Nadu, it was a welcome offer, no doubt. Whether the stash was meant for the party workers slogging it out in the heat and rain -- it kept alternating between the two in the morning -- or the voter who was equally dry-throated, was anyone's guess.

Nearby, on the main thoroughfare, a large posse of policemen, including an additional commissioner of police, gathered near a school turned polling station. A little distance away, a young man was returning after voting. He spoke to a man near some hutments who handed out a 500 rupee note. The voter held it up against the light as if to check if it was genuine, and disappeared into the village.

The donor was clearly unhappy at being accosted by journalists but did not prevent others from speaking. There was the usual tale of names missing from voters' list -- the excessive grief over which made one wonder it was at the omission or the easy chance to earn a day's wage -- and the lack of toilets that forced women to go out to the seaside every morning. When this is the story in a VIP constituency, the rest of the state cannot be much better.

In the adjoining Thiruvottiyur constituency, it was the same story. Heavy police presence marked the main roads, but head off into the warren of bylanes nearby and the picture you get is different.

One man told the polling agents, "I have not voted yet." A party worker told him, "Go and do it now." "But first you give me the money," was the prompt reply. "Please vote and come, I will give you the money," the party man assured him. "How do I know you will give me the money? It's already 11 am and I have not voted. Will you give me the money or should I ask the other party?" the voter wanted to know.

The exchange was loud enough for everyone on the road to hear it. But it was laughed off, as if at the public auction of a vote.

Workers of the two major parties were lined up on each side of the road, talking up their side and throwing jibes at the other. It was all done in a good-humoured manner, as between friends, which they must be once the election tensions are over.

Given the need to get the vote out on both sides, it was soon bound to happen. One of us was accosted by a young man, who wanted to know if we had cast our vote. When we said no, he said why don't you go and vote? Sure, we will, but will you give us the money? No, you first vote, then we will give you, came the reply. How much? He wouldn't reply, the conversation going round in the same loop.

IMAGE: Polling agents at a booth. The city is splattered with posters urging 100 per cent voting. Photograph: Saisuresh Sivaswamy/

Conversations with people from across the city revealed that while the party faithfuls had already been paid ahead of the elections, especially the ones from the service class like house maids, drivers etc, the last-minute disbursement on voting day is meant to woo the undecided voter whose ballot is crucial if the state has to preserve its reputation of not having had a coalition government ever.

One man assured us that the calmness we had been witnessing since the morning would change drastically after 4.30 pm. "Then they will be rushing around to find the people who have not cast their vote, and if they cannot find them they will find someway to make sure that the vote is cast."

The Election Commission has gone all out to increase voter awareness to achieve 100 percent voting in Tamil Nadu -- five years ago it was 78 per cent.

The party workers also seem ready and willing to help the EC realise its aim -- but in a different way.

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