Interview: Thol. Thirumavalavan

‘Near-total bribery’

Print edition : July 22, 2016

VCK leader Thol. Thirumavalavan. Photo: L. Srinivasan

Interview with Thol. Thirumavalavan, VCK leader.

APART from the massive distribution of cash for votes, the May 2016 election to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly will be remembered for the formation of a third alternative force, the People’s Welfare Front (PWF). Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) leader Thol. Thirumavalavan was the catalyst for this nascent experiment, which brought together Vaiko’s Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and G.K. Vasan’s Tamil Maanila Congress. Vijayakanth’s Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam also lent its weight to the alliance, making the combine, at least on paper, a formidable alternative to the Big Two, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). Thirumavalavan told Frontline in an interview that the PWF secured a shockingly low percentage of votes because it did not distribute cash for votes. Excerpts:

Is there any proof to the claim that money was distributed across the 234 constituencies? Specifically, what was the scene in Kattumannarkoil from where you contested?

It was done in the open. People in many localities in my constituency told us that they were paid but they would vote for me. During my campaign in the 200 villages in the constituency, I told voters that “the DMK and the AIADMK will bribe you but don’t fall for the money. Vote for the ring symbol [allotted to the VCK]”. I couldn’t tell them not to take the money. We do not have the capacity to distribute cash.

I told them “the VCK fights for your rights and hence please don’t get cheated by the big Dravidian parties whose main aim is to ensure that Vijayakanth lost in Ulundurpet and Thirumavalavan in Kattumannarkoil”. My information is that more than Rs.30 crore was spent in Ulundurpet and more than Rs.15 crore in Kattumannarkoil to defeat us. I warned people to be vigilant and not let their votes be split. But in every village between 50 and 100 votes were spilt.

Was money the only deciding factor in the election? Did people vote for the person from whom they took the money?

I got 48,363 votes. I can’t say that the 48,363 voters did not take money from anyone. They may have taken money, but they voted for me. Not everyone will vote because they took money. But in a colony [the Dalit settlement of a village] if 100 votes are split it means that these 100 people voted for a person they took money from.

The first information we got was that the AIADMK did not distribute money to 100 per cent of the people. The party had already listed out people who would vote for them. In each and every village, they do this mapping of party sympathisers. They then come up with a list of people who voted according to the circumstances. Both the AIADMK and the DMK do this kind of mapping. No other party does this kind of work. They visit each and every village with the voters’ list and make a list of who favours which party. The two parties started this work a year ago.

Most other parties only check who in the voters’ list is dead or has gone out of station. Only the AIADMK and the DMK have a list of who will vote for whom. At the end of this exercise, they are in a position to establish the confirmed votes for each party. In the 2011 Assembly election and in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, they paid only their sympathisers. In some constituencies, for instance, if there were 1.75 lakh voters, they paid only one lakh voters to confirm the candidate’s victory. It was not necessary to pay all the 1.75 lakh voters. It is only this time that 100 per cent of the voters were bribed.

By both the parties?

Yes, both the parties. They had a good understanding between themselves. If one party distributed money during the day, the other party would distribute in the night in order to avoid unnecessary incidents.

The first information I received was that the AIADMK was distributing only to confirmed AIADMK voters. This was to ensure that their votes did not split. In my constituency, the Congress contested as part of the DMK alliance. They [the DMK and the Congress] distributed money to organised community groups, including Jamaats and caste groups. This was the initial information. But in reality, each and every house received money; the AIADMK has given money to DMK supporters and the DMK has given to [known] AIADMK supporters. Both the parties have given cash to 100 per cent of the households in my constituency.

There is information that the amount varied from one pocket to another.

I was told that voters in urban areas were given Rs.500. In villages, I was told by people who received money that the DMK paid Rs.250 and the AIADMK Rs.300. This is our proof. Even VCK supporters have told me that they received money.

They distributed money even after knowing that they are VCK supporters. Earlier, this was not the case. If a party knew for certain that a particular house belonged to the cadre of a rival party, they would not give money. This election was different. VCK workers were also given money. We managed this number of votes after surmounting all these.

The reason for the mass distribution of cash is that in the previous elections, there was no credible force against the DMK and the AIADMK. But when Vijayakanth joined the PWF, both the DMK and the AIADMK got scared that this would become a big force. They wanted to make sure that we didn’t grow at any cost. That is why they paid 100 per cent of the people. That is why there was such an understanding between the AIADMK and the DMK, an understanding that did not exist before.

If a voter takes Rs.200 from a candidate and Rs.300 from another, who will he or she vote for?

I asked the voters the same question in the last election too. See, both the parties have given money to households. If there are five votes in a household, three will vote for the DMK and two for the AIADMK. [A VCK supporter interrupts to say that this is what happened in her mother’s house.] Or, if there were six votes in a house, four voted for me and two for the AIADMK or the Congress. I tried to explain to the people that this was a multi-cornered fight and so I might win by a narrow margin. “If you vote for the other parties because you have taken money from them, I will lose by a narrow margin,” I told the voters.

The situation today is that without money power, you cannot exist in electoral politics. Where does that leave political parties like yours?

There is a need for electoral reforms.

Can an election be fought with the Rs.28 lakh prescribed by the E.C.?

That’s what they have decided. My question is was only Rs.28 lakh spent in R.K. Nagar? The drawings, the handbills and other publicity material used in the constituency will cost several lakhs of rupees. The bias of the E.C. comes to the fore. I have asked for a review of the statement of expenditure for R.K. Nagar. The E.C. must take selected constituencies, the star constituencies, and compare the statements of expenditure the candidates have submitted with its own investigation and arrive at a conclusion.

Are you asking for a forensic audit?

Yes, I am asking for an audit. If the E.C. audits their expenditure, it can annul their victories. How come the E.C. takes the statement of expenditure at face value and declares a candidate winner? Elections are the fountainhead of corruption. In order to eliminate corruption, the first step is to curb electoral malpractices.

It is calculated that the AIADMK and the DMK have spent Rs.3,000 crore each on this election over the past two years. The DMK’s [expenditure] began from the time of the Namakku Naame journey [pre-election tour by DMK treasurer M.K. Stalin] to the counting of votes. Was this money collected from party members? Did party workers collect money from the people of the State? Who gave them this cash? Who gave them donations? Why would someone give a donation if there is no benefit for them? The Rs.3,000 crore the two parties spent is an investment. The AIADMK has taken the entire State for a tender [bid] for Rs.3,000 crore. This is not a government.

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