In a dramatic turn of events, the polls in Vellore parliamentary constituency in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have been canceled following allegations that money is being used to influence voters in the general elections.
Days earlier, in a series of raids conducted by income tax officials, cash amounting to some Rs 110 million was seized from a cement-storage warehouse. Authorities alleged that the godown allegedly belonged to politician Kathir Anand of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a regional party that’s allied with Congress in Tamil Nadu.
Anand, who is the son of the party’s treasurer, said that the owner of the warehouse “has no connection whatsoever to me or my constituency,” The Wire reported. He added that the raids were “illegal,” alleging further that the BJP and its regional ally, the state ruling party All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), “have misused and abused the Income Tax Department.”
Following this, another raid was carried out at the residence of Kanimozhi, daughter of the late DMK veteran Karunanidhi and sister of party chief M K Stalin.
AIADMK and DMK, opponents despite the similarity of their names, are the strongest parties within the state. The leading national parties, BJP and Congress, cling to their respective coattails in Tamil Nadu elections.
The money issue has sparked an uproar among opposition leaders in states including Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. Their leaders have accused BJP of misusing its power and targeting the opposition leaders through the tax agency.
The Election Commission received a report from Tamil Nadu’s Chief electoral officer after which the raids were conducted. The EC’s order stated, “The commission is fully satisfied that the current electoral process in 8-Vellore parliamentary constituency … has been seriously vitiated on account of unlawful activities” by candidates. The commission said it had found a “systematic design to influence voters.”
The value of cash seized is the largest so far in this year’s elections.
On the recommendation of the commission, President Ram Nath Kovind signed the notification and rescinded the voting in Vellore – on the basis that it would be difficult to conduct free and fair elections for now in that area, under the circumstances, – just 48 hours before it was to go to the polls. The rest of the state will vote as planned on April 18, along with half of Karnataka, in the seven phase general election.