Ruling parties and coalitions make gains in a round of byelections across the country.SUKUMAR MURALIDHARAN T.S. SUBRAMANIAN
A SLEW of byelections in various parts of the country brought a surprising assertion of an incumbency advantage. Ruling parties and coalitions in West Bengal, Maharashtra, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu all managed to consolidate their positions with convincing victories.
The largest number of seats at stake was in U.P., where Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) held on to the Lok Sabha seat of Akbarpur, vacated recently after she won a seat in the U.P. Assembly. The Raheri Assembly seat witnessed a significant contest. The Samajwadi Party (S.P.) candidate, a Muslim, who won the election in February, was murdered in a daylight attack outside the Raj Bhavan in Lucknow. Both the S.P. and the BSP fielded Muslim candidates. The BSP's victory is seen to indicate that it has managed to retain the allegiance of sections of the community despite entering into a coalition arrangement with the BJP.
The BSP also retained the Jehangirganj Assembly seat, which was one of the two won by Mayawati in February. Rajbir Singh, son of former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, won the Dibai seat. Kalyan Singh contested the seat on the Rashtriya Kranti Party ticket in February and won. Kunda, where polling and counting had been disrupted by accusations of gross irregularities, witnessed an astonishing winning margin of over 80,000 seats for Raghuraj Pratap Singh, alias Raja Bhaiyya, an independent backed by the BJP. A member of the erstwhile feudal dynasty, he is much feared in the area for his willing recourse to the use of force in political campaigning.
G. Vijayakumari, the widow of former Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi, won the Amalapuram Lok Sabha seat on the Telugu Desam Party ticket. The Congress, the principal Opposition party in the State, had chosen not to put up a candidate against her in a gesture of respect to Balayogi.
Shibu Soren, the veteran Jharkhand leader, won from Dumka on the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha ticket, defeating a BJP candidate by over 90,000 votes. This is perhaps the only outcome of the round of byelections where a ruling party or coalition in a State suffered a setback. Shortly after the results were announced, Chief Minister Babulal Marandi of the BJP sought a hasty truce with the disenchanted members of the Samata Party. After having fallen out over the allocation of a Rajya Sabha seat that had been held by the Samata Party, the two parties have patched up their differences, with all the Ministers belonging to the Samata choosing to withdraw their resignations.
IN Tamil Nadu, the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) won the byelections to the Vaniyambadi and Acharapakkam Assembly seats. The victory was not a surprise but the margins were. More impressive was the fact that the AIADMK wrested the Acharappakkam constituency from the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK).
The AIADMK fought the byelections on its own as its allies in the Assembly elections of May 2001 - the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC), the Congress, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the PMK - had walked out of the alliance. What benefited the AIADMK was the fact that these parties did not band together as an alliance. The PMK joined the main Opposition party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), and the CPI(M) rejected the 'third front' idea mooted by the Congress. Thus the anti-AIADMK votes did not effectively transfer to the parties that opposed it.
In the Saidapet constituency in Chennai city, where a byelection was held, the Election Commission of India (ECI) stopped the counting and ordered a broad-based inquiry after examining complaints filed by various parties. The DMK, the PMK, the CPI(M) and the CPI demanded a repoll in the whole constituency. DMK president and former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi showed mediapersons blank community certificates signed and issued by the tahsildar of Mambalam-Guindy taluk, coming under the Saidapet constituency, with the seal affixed. Karunanidhi charged that thousands of such certificates, blank ration cards, driving licences and photo identity cards were used by AIADMK workers to cast bogus votes. (These are among the 19 documents listed by the ECI and the voter must produce one of these at the polling booths as proof of his/her identity.) He said that AIADMK workers, with the help of the police, seized 70 per cent of the polling booths in the constituency. Elections in the State, according to him, had become a farce. Karunanidhi said: "I consider it a sad day because democracy's jugular has been slit. I will not, therefore, celebrate my birthday" (His birthday is on June 3). He asked his partymen not to meet him on his 79th birthday to convey their greetings. On that day, DMK and PMK members of the Assembly and Parliament offered fast in New Delhi to press their demand for a repoll.
N. Varadarajan, State secretary of the CPI(M), said that while instances of bogus votes being cast had occurred in the State in the past, those of polling booths being seized were unprecedented. Capturing booths and committing other irregularities at counting centres (by the AIADMK) began with the Chennai Corporation elections last year and reached a peak in Saidapet, he said. R. Nallakannu, secretary of the CPI State Council, said a repoll would be the democratic solution in Saidapet. Vaiko, general secretary of the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), wanted repoll in booths where complaints had been made.
The byelections were caused by the death of V. Perumal (DMK, Saidapet), A. Selvaraj (PMK, Acharapakkam), and M. Abdul Latheef (Indian National League, Vaniyambadi).
It was a key fight in Saidapet. Karunanidhi has a sentimental attachment to Saidapet from where he got elected in 1967 and became Public Works Minister in C.N. Annadurai's Cabinet. The DMK's candidate was Ma. Subramanian and the AIADMK fielded film actor Radha Ravi. The CPI(M) and the MDMK were in the contest, with T. Nandagopal and P. Subramani as their candidates. The PMK backed the DMK while the CPI and the TMC backed the CPI(M). There were altogether 26 candidates.
For Vaniyambadi, AIADMK general secretary and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced the candidature of R. Vadivelu, brushing aside the INL's claim. (The AIADMK and the INL were allies in the May 2001 elections). In the AIADMK's reckoning, the INL had become "a letter-pad party" in Tamil Nadu after the death of Latheef. Jayalalithaa rejected the conventional electoral strategy of major parties fielding a Muslim candidate from Vaniyambadi, where Muslims form 32 per cent of the population. The DMK's candidate was E.M. Anifa. The INL fielded Nawaz and the MDMK, R. Lakshmikanthan.
IN Acharapakkam (reserved), A. Buvaragamoorthy of the AIADMK, D. Parventhan of the PMK, P.S. Ellappan of the CPI and 11 others contested. The PMK had the backing of the DMK, the MDMK and the BJP. The CPI was supported by the Congress(I), the TMC and the CPI(M).
Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa toured the three constituencies.
There was unabashed display of manpower and money power by the AIADMK. At Vaniyambadi, eight Ministers, 36 MLAs, four MPs and several thousand men from outside campaigned and the electorate was overawed by the show of opulence.
In 2001, Latheef had defeated J.M. Haroon Rasheed, who was backed by the DMK, by 11,873 votes. Poll analysts attributed the bigger margin this time to the polarisation of Hindu votes but this is a debatable point. Sundry Hindu outfits, including the Hindu Munnani, worked for the AIADMK. The Muslim vote bank did get split between Anifa and Nawaz to some extent. Obviously, the electorate preferred a candidate from the ruling party.
At Acharapakkam, Dalits largely preferred the AIADMK to the PMK, basically a party representing the Vanniyar caste. Vanniyars and Dalits are at daggers drawn in Tamil Nadu. The PMK has lost its credibility because it has kept switching sides between the AIADMK and the DMK in every round of elections.