After the last date for withdrawing nomination papers, 77 candidates, including 73 independents, remained in the fray in the Erode East constituency for the 27 February by-election.
Priority would be accorded to the recognised parties, with Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK)’s poll symbol, Drum, appearing in the top slot of the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). The Congress’s ‘Hand’ will come next, followed by AIADMK’s ‘Two Leaves’ symbol.
Naam Tamilar Katchi’s symbol ‘Sugarcane Farmer’ is at 22nd place on the EVM, despite the Seeman-led party coming third in the previous Assembly election. Menaka Navaneethan is its candidate.
The EVM will have symbols such as Green chilli, Jackfruit, Watermelon, Ginger, Okra, Cauliflower, Ring, Autorickshaw, Cycle, Hat, Scissors, Bangles, Iron Box, etc. These symbols have been allotted to independent candidates.
Congress MLA Thirumahan Everaa’s death necessitated the bypoll. His father EVKS Elangovan of the Congress is the DMK-led alliance’s candidate.
Related: How Elangovan was persuaded to contest Erode East bypoll
Demand for ‘Cooker’ and ‘Torchlight’
Several independents wanted ‘Cooker’ or ‘Torchlight’ as their election symbol. TTV Dhinakaran said his party, the Amma Makkal Munetra Kazhagam (AMMK) would boycott the poll since it was denied the ‘Cooker’ symbol.
Dhinakaran said contesting under a different symbol would confuse the voters. Following the boycott call, AMMK’s Shiva Prasad withdrew his nomination.
Four other candidates demanded the ‘Cooker’ and a lot was drawn. KPM Raja of the Kongu Desa Marumalarchi Makkal Katchi got the symbol.
The ‘Torchlight’, too, was in high demand. Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan had contested the previous Assembly election on the symbol in the constituency and won 10,005 votes.
In this bypoll, Kamal had offered his support to EVKS Elangovan, the Congress candidate, and will be campaigning in the segment on 19 February.
Despite more than a dozen candidates demanding the Torchlight. It went to one Velumani, a candidate representing the Vishva Bharat People’s Party.
Related: AIADMK, allies intensify campaign; DMK all set to counter
All set for polls
As many as 128 independent candidates contested in the Erode district’s eight constituencies in 2021. The Perundurai Assembly segment had the maximum number of independents, 25, while Bhavanisagar had six candidates, the lowest. However, the Erode East segment has 77 candidates in the fray.
Speaking to South First, District Collector H Krishnanunni said that for 238 booths, 286 EVMs and control units were allotted, in addition to 310 VVPATs. As 77 candidates are contesting, five EVMs will be placed in each booth, he said.
The collector added that election officials were being provided with proper training.
“Usually, the political parties would field proxies as independent candidates whose names are similar to rival candidates, Mohammed Quddus, an MDMK functionary told South First.
“This strategy had worked several times and even prominent party candidates were defeated by a very narrow margin due to the confusion over names,” he added.
However, in Erode East, there are no namesakes.
The large number of independents poses another problem. Space must be provided for their agents in polling booths and at the counting centre. Any technical issue with EVM will further delay the process.
The counting is on 2 March.
Related: Why Erode East bypoll is all clear for Edappadi Palaniswami
Poll reform: Erode style
Incidentally, the election Commission of India was once forced to postpone by a month the voting at the Modakuruchi constituency in the district due to a multitude of independents.
As many as 1,096 farmers filed their nomination papers to contest from Modakuruchi in the 1996 Assembly election.
For the first time in India, the ballot paper was replaced by a 50-page booklet to accommodate all candidates and, later on, it paved the way for several reforms in the election process, including the deposit amount for aspirants being increased from ₹250 to ₹10,000 and the NOTA — None of The Above — option being introduced.