Ground report: Money flows like water in Erode East bypoll as DMK, AIADMK make it ‘personal’

From ₹500 to 'sit idle' in 'election camps' to cash ranging from ₹1,500 to ₹5,000, parties go all out to buy votes as the ECI is mute.

ByVinodh Arulappan

Published Feb 25, 2023 | 5:09 PM Updated Feb 25, 2023 | 6:49 PM

Erode Eat bypoll MK Stalin campaigning

Clothes, tokens, hard cash, screenings of new movies, silver anklets, non-stop supply of food and liquor. Name a bribe you can think of to lure voters, and you will find it in the Erode East Assembly constituency that is scheduled to see balloting on 27 February.

In the first bypoll since the DMK and its allies formed the government under MK Stalin in Tamil Nadu, bribes, it seems, are the order of the day in Erode East as it witnessed the final day of campaigning on Saturday, 25 February.

And when it comes to bribing voters, it is “party no bar”.

Visit a voter’s home in Erode East constituency and they will show you saree, vetti, silver anklets or at least tokens given by the DMK or the AIADMK that voters have been asked to exchange for “gifts” after polling day.

Hard cash is also being handed to voters by party workers — ranging from ₹1,500 to ₹5,000 per vote.

Congress candidate, DMK campaign

The Erode East seat fell vacant after the demise of sitting MLA Evera Thirumagan. EVKS Elangovan, the father of the deceased MLA from the Congress party, and KS Thennarasu, a two-time MLA from AIADMK, are the prime contenders and are in the fray to fill the post.

While the ruling alliance in Tamil Nadu allowed the Congress to field a candidate, it is the DMK that has been driving the high-voltage campaign in the Erode East seat — and with good reason.

The results of the bypoll may be seen as a referendum on the performance of the MK Stalin government. For the DMK, it is an opportunity to get the people’s endorsement on the “progress card” it is presenting on its one-and-half-year tenure.

It is precisely for this reason that AIADMK-BJP alliance is pulling out all stops to emerge victorious in the seat. A defeat for the ruling alliance will be constructed as a shining example of “people’s anger” against the Stalin government.

The Erode East bypoll is also a prestige battle for Edappadi K Palaniswamy (EPS) of the AIADMK, who on Thursday was handed the reins of the party by a Supreme Court order.

Given the high stakes involved for both sides, voters of Erode East Assembly seat are being showered with “gifts”. The bypoll is perhaps the most expensive ever seen in Tamil Nadu.

14 ministers campaign

Minister of Housing and Urban Development S Muthusamy has been camping in Erode to marshal the forces. On Saturday, Chief Minister MK Stalin himself campaigned for the Congress candidate in the seat. A trail of other leaders have been campaigning in the seat for weeks now.

On the other hand, AIADMK wants to pose a serious challenge to the DMK as the party is facing its first election under the leadership of EPS, as his rival O Panneerselvam has called a temporary truce for the by-election, apparently at the instigation of the BJP, which wants both factions to fight unitedly to defeat the DMK.

All former AIADMK ministers, under the supervision of KA Sengottian, are in the field for election work. They have to prove that EPS has recognition among the public, and that the party is still the principal Opposition in the state.

DMK micro management

Erode East bypoll bribes

People sitting outside an AIADMK “camp” in the Erode East constituency. (Vinodh Arulappan/South First)

For the first time in many years, the trendsetting ‘Thirumangalam Formula’ was dropped as a strategy in Erode East but a new strategy was adopted. Thirumangalam Formula, adopted in all other bypolls, refers to distribution of cash and valuables and tokens only to DMK voters during the night, after disconnecting the electricity.

This time however, parties have taken to a different route of “seize the people in a place, shower them with money”.

This time in Erode, everyone is being wooed. Each ward in the constituency has allotted to a minister or MLA of the DMK. For every street in a ward, a DMK functionary has been deputed as in-charge.

A detailed ward-wise report of the past two general election results has been taken and door-to-door “canvassing” has been done.

‘Pressure cooker house’

Erode East bypoll bribes

Sarees and anklets distributed by the parties in Erode East bypoll. (Vinodh Arulappan/South First)

For example, if in Street A, in the past elections, DMK had secured 60 votes out of 100, those 60 votes are treated as DMK votes and a minimum cash bribe of ₹3,000 is given to each voter, or sometimes silver anklets and sarees.

For the remaining 40 votes, a minimum cash of ₹5,000 is given to each voter, and maybe pressure cookers and anklets.

“Pressure Cooker House” is the code used to signify a household that had voted for the rival AIADMK in past elections.

Apart from this, whenever a minister campaigns in the wards, ₹200 to ₹500 have been distributed to each house.

If it is a “Pressure Cooker House”, the amount could go up to ₹1,000.

‘Election camp’ for voters

All the Opposition parties, including the AIADMK and Naam Tamilar Katchi (NTK), have been alleging that DMK is confining people in large public “halls” so that they cannot be influenced by the rival party’s campaigners.

Nearly 200 such “election camps” have been erected in the constituency, according to the DMK’s rivals. But though the DMK started this strategy, after a couple of weeks, the AIADMK too adopted it.

The AIADMK, which is strong in certain wards, installed such “halls” and took people under their control from morning till evening.

South First visited such public halls in the constituency and spoke to the people from the respective wards who had been invited to spend the day there.

What voters said

TK Sugumar, a resident of Veerappan Chatiram, who is a painter, said: “From morning to evening if we sit in the hall, the DMK gives ₹500 per head, including lunch and dinner.”

Another resident, Periya Nayagi from BP Agraharam, said, “After finishing our household work we, including a few neighbours, come to the halls. They have a big-screen colour television and a newly-released movie will be screened. They gave us ₹200 for staying there, ideally for seven hours. In the evening we return to our houses.”

South First learnt that there are two slots in these “halls” — from 8 am to 2 pm and from 2 pm to 8 pm — and ₹200 is given to each person per slot. A similar amount was paid to the people who come to the AIADMK “camps”.

B Jansi Priya, a resident in the ward said: “I have earned nearly ₹6,000 by visiting such camps. We have four votes in our family and the DMK gave us ₹3,000 per vote and the AIADMK gave ₹2,000 per vote.”

“As a family, we have earned ₹30,000 in just two weeks and all this money they are giving is our money, which they had swindled from us,” she told South First.

Apart from this, a rice bag of 25 kg, tokens for 25 kg of chicken meat, ₹5,000 worth of tokens for provisions have also been distributed by both the parties.

Feast for hoteliers, cooks

According to reports, there are 40 lodges in the Erode Corporation limits and 50 hotels and lodges in Erode district — and all of them have been occupied by DMK and AIADMK functionaries.

Bulk orders were given to the small eateries and cooks around erode to prepare the food served in the “election camps” and “halls”.

K Abhudhair, a resident from Marapalam, who runs a mess, said that every day he gets orders for 300 parottas and 150 chicken biriyanis.

“I have earned as much in these 20 days as I would have earned in six months,” he told South First.

He added that the amount is being settled promptly by the parties and no dues were pending.

ECI: Silent spectator

When South First visited the constituency, we saw such camps were still being operated.

But the Election Commission, in a case related to the irregularities in the Erode East bypoll, told the Madras High Court that it had received complaints regarding 163 “illegal camps”, but 107 of them were found to have obtained permission for campaigning.

Some 40 “illegal camps” were closed down by the political parties themselves, while 16 were sealed by election officials.

Though there are 12 Flying Squads and 12 Static Surveillance Teams deployed in the constituency — headed by a senior executive magistrate and comprising of one senior police officer, and three-four armed personnel, apart from a videographer — these teams only monitor the check posts and the roads in the constituency.