Impressive turnout in high-stakes Assembly elections
Chennai/Thiruvananthapuram/Kolkata: A high voter turnout of 65 per cent to over 82 per cent was recorded in Assembly elections in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Assam and West Bengal on Tuesday, with the Congress, along with its allies like the DMK, locked in a keen contest to regain turf in South India. Polling was held in 475 seats across the four States and the Union Territory of Puducherry, and the remaining phases will cover only West Bengal, before the counting of votes on May 2.
In Kerala, where the Left is hoping to beat anti-incumbency to retain power, a feat unseen in four decades, and the BJP is making efforts to build inroads, around 74 per cent polling was recorded in the 140 seats till 7 pm. There was nearly 65 per cent voting in Tamil Nadu for 234 Assembly constituencies and around 80 per cent in Puducherry’s 30 seats.
The three-phase Assembly election culminated in Assam with 82.33 per cent polling in 40 seats in the final round in the State where the ruling BJP is battling the Congress-led alliance to retain power.
The trend of high turnout and violence during polling continued in West Bengal as the ruling Trinamool Congress, the BJP and the Left-Congress alliance put up an intense fight in the high-stakes contest. Five candidates, including two women, were assaulted in poll-related clashes as over 77 per cent voting was recorded in 31 seats in West Bengal in the third phase.
Violence was reported in areas like Uluberia, Khanakul, Falta, Canning Purba, Durbrajpur and Hooghly, where a BJP supporter’s family member was killed. The State is having eight-phase elections. Stray incidents of clashes between workers of rival parties were also reported in other States.
The massive polling exercise following COVID-19 health protocol and involving lakhs of personnel began at 7 am and the last hour from 6 pm to 7 pm was set aside for COVID-19 patients and those under isolation. DMK Lok Sabha member Kanimozhi, who is being treated for COVID-19, voted at a polling station in Chennai while wearing a Personal Protective Equipment kit.
In Tamil Nadu, both the Dravidian parties, AIADMK and DMK, went into the election without their stalwarts, J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi.
Chief Minister K Palaniswami and his deputy O Panneerselvam will cement their position as successors of Jayalalithaa if the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (AIADMK) retains power though it faces an uphill task especially after the rout in the 2019 Lok Sabha election when the DMK-led alliance won 38 out of 39 seats.
The AIADMK had scored successive wins in 2011 and in 2016, when Jayalalithaa bucked the anti-incumbency trend — the first by anyone in nearly three decades in the State.
After a narrow defeat in the last Assembly election where several exit polls had predicted his party’s win, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief M K Stalin spearheaded a determined election campaign this time and vigorously toured the State to take on the ruling AIADMK.
He is seeking re-election for the straight third term from the Kolathur segment here while his son and party youth wing secretary Udhayanidhi Stalin is debuting from Chepauk- Triplicance constituency.
AIADMK Lok Sabha member P Ravindhranath alleged that he and his supporters were attacked by DMK men on Tuesday. DMK’s Thondamuthur constituency nominee in Coimbatore district, Karthikeya Sivesenapathy alleged that ruling AIADMK and BJP people tried to attack him when he was travelling in a car.
Makkal Needhi Maiam, founded in 2018 and led by actor-politician Kamal Haasan, is trying its luck in Assembly polls for the first time. AIADMK ally BJP, which had not won any seat in the last polls, is contesting in 20 constituencies. Another AIADMK ally PMK is contesting from 23 constituencies. The Congress, an ally of the DMK, is in the fray in 25 Assembly segments.
Celebrities like Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan were among the early voters.
In Kerala, where the Left Democratic Front (LDF) is seeking to break the State’s four-decade-old trend of swinging between the communists and the Congress-led United Democratic Front, the electors decided the fate of 957 candidates in 140 Assembly constituencies across the State.
The BJP, which has failed to make a dent in the State, has fielded former Mizoram Governor Kummanam Rajasekharan, ‘Metroman’ E Sreedharan, who joined the saffron party recently, State president K Surendran, senior leader Shobha Surendran and Rajya Sabha members Suresh Gopi and K J Alphons.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had camped in the State for several days and taken part in dozens of corner meetings and rallies, with the party hoping that the State will herald a turn in its electoral fortunes after a series of disappointments in recent years. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said a high turnout always augurs well for the UDF.