In an exercise that will see a ripple effect or more on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government, elections to the politically significant states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu as well as Puducherry ended with millions voting peacefully to bring in new assemblies.
While Kerala saw more than 74 per cent of the 22 million electorate voting, the turnout in neighbouring Tamil Nadu was also a high 75 per cent of 47 million voters. Puducherry witnessed more - 78 per cent polling.
6:15 pm: Over 65 per cent of the electorate in Tamil Nadu cast their votes as polling ended peacefully in all 234 assembly constituencies.
6:00 pm: Star campaigner of Kerala's ruling Left Democratic Front, Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan expressed confidence that the people will give the government another mandate. Read on
5:30 pm: More than 78 per cent of voters exercised their franchise in the Puducherry assembly polls, officials said. Interestingly, women outnumbered men in exercising their democratic right. While 79.99 percent of women voters cast their votes, the number of men who voted was lower at 77.69 percent.
4:30 pm: An estimated 55 per cent of 4.7 crore electorate cast their votes till 3 pm in the elections to the 234-member Assembly in Tamil Nadu.
4:00 pm: A DMK-supported sarpanch has been held and is being interrogated for allegedly distributing cash to voters in Coonoor assembly constituency in Nilgiris district, official sources said. Read more
3:15 pm: Here's some spice: Popular Malayalam actor Kavya Madhavan, who was trying to jump queue at a polling booth, had to return without casting her vote after a voter protested at her behaviour.
2:45 pm: AIADMK general secretary Jayalalithaa predicted a landslide win for her alliance and a clear majority for her party. Terming the DMK corrupt, she said: 'There has been corruption earlier but not on this scale. Not only the 2G spectrum scam but people are also aware of scams in granite quarrying, sand mining and others.'
2:30 pm: Expressing confidence about his party winning the Tamil Nadu Assembly polls, Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam president M Karunanidhi hinted at the possibility of the state having a coalition government. Read on
More election humor, again from @rameshsrivats -- who is pithy and to the point about the prevailing culture of buying votes: Today, every citizen of Tamil Nadu has to make a very important decision: in the next five years, do I want a TV, or a laptop?
So far in Kerala 48.5% people have voted.
12: 54 pm:
PHOTOS of states that have gone to polls so far.
Despite EC's numerous warnings, parties in Tamil Nadu continue to "buy" votes. Money and liquor were readily available at polling booths.
12: 28 pm:
Voicing confidence that his party will win the Tamil Nadu Assembly polls, DMK president M Karunanidhi hinted at a possible coalition government, a key issue said to have been raised by long-time ally Congress as a post-poll arrangement.
"Our prospects are as bright as the Rising Sun (DMK's symbol) and we will win as many seats as we require to form government...It could either be our own or a coalition".
12: 25 pm:
In more serious vein, Thiruvanthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor is puzzled by the controversy surrounding Kerala CM Atchudanadan's terming Rahul Gandhi an "Amul baby". Here's his response. Meanwhile, this is what is puzzling us: Have elections become so meaningless that such fluff passes for debate? Are there no serious issues for the rival parties to bicker about?
12: 20 pm:
More Twitter humor sparked by the elections: @rameshsrivats says BCCI secretary N Srinivasan, also boss of the Chennai Super Kings, has been making his team do lots of weights, push-ups etc this morning, because someone told him it was important to exercise his franchise.
Playback singer Chinmayi went to vote in Chennai, and had to wait 45 minutes in a queue. @Chinmayi tweeted: Now that wait I love. That many turned up.
11: 55 am:
Times Now reports that the purchase of votes is flourishing merrily in Madurai (which forms part of the fiefdom of Karunanidhi heir Azhagiri). The going rate, the channel says, is Rs 500 per vote -- which, if true, is a pretty sad commentary on the value of the vote in this state.
11: 52 am:
Jayanthi Thangkabalu, the wife of Tamil Nadu Congress chief K.V. Thangkabalu, had to return disappointed from the polling booth in Velachary. Her name could not be found in the voter's list. She had been named as a candidate for the Mylapore constituency, but her nomination was rejected on the grounds that it was incomplete.
Twitter may have only a minuscule minority of the electorate on it, but it's still a valuable source for both humor and insight. And sometimes, both together. Twitter user @JayHind points out that the ruling DMK has offered voters rice, and Jayalalitha offered mixer-grinders -- which means that no matter how this turns out, TN voters can now make better Dosa batter.
The Election Commission warns parties against misconduct during the polls, threatening to take action against errant parties even after the polling. Meanwhile, TN Deputy CM Stalin says the EC is biased.
More sound bytes: MK Stalin, deputy CM of Tamil Nadu and son of chief minister Karunanidhi, says the Election Commission has been acting against the interests of the ruling party. While he did not exemplify, the EC's seizing of vast quantities of currency, and its veiled threat that in the event it comes across malpractice it can countermand elections even after the votes are cast, indicate the source of his angst. Oh, and Stalin also said, by way of non sequitur, that the DMK would "register a thumping win".
Kerala polling to go on till 5pm. Shashi Tharoor says Congress is likely to come to power. He says, "people are fed up of left misrule".
Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa change their constituencies from the ones they normally stand. This time, Jaya contests from Srirangam constituency in Trichy instead of Andipatti. While Karuna stands from Thiruvarur from Chepauk.
Meanwhile, the Malayala Manorama newspaper points out that a certain Kannoth Karunakaran has his name in the active voters' list. Which is fairly interesting, since the 92-year-old Congress veteran, who has been Chief Minister of Kerala on four different occasions, died December 23, 2010.
Officially, campaigning has ended -- but unofficial campaigns in the form of rumor-mongering, fear-generating and such continues through election day. AIADMK boss lady Jayalalitha fired one such promising salvo when, shortly after casting her vote in Chennai, told TV news channels that she suspects polling security officers will not be paid. Why she thinks so was not immediately unclear; suffice that there is now a sound byte out there for channels to play around with.
10: 48 am:
After casting her vote, on her way out, Jayalalithaa says there is rampant corruption in the ongoing polls and says Karunanidhi is instigating violence in the state.
10: 40 am:
In Kerala, highest voter turnout is in Kozhizode with 19.5 % while state capital Thiruvananthapuram registers lowest turnout with 14.1 %.
The numbers so far for Tamil Nadu:
Total seats : 234
In the comments section attached to this story, reader Natrajan from Tamil Nadu makes a pertinent point: "It would be helpful if a separate "Q" is formed for the senior citizens. There was no drinking water or toilet facilities. I stood in the "Q" for more than an hour. There is no protection from the scorching heat of the sun.. It is impossible for the aged and sick to stand in the Q." Exactly -- something for the Election Commission to consider, especially in light of the fact -- or perception -- that the young don't bother to vote, and that it is the senior citizens who exercise their franchise in large numbers.
Much unintended hilarity results during election time, especially in the south. Read on for stories of money stacked in a wedding hall for the wedding that never was; or of how M Karunanidhi, the embattled patriarch of the ruling DMK, suddenly woke to a passion for cricket and asked if he could felicitate the World Cup-winning Indian cricket team and its Tamil Nadu star Ravichandra Ashwin.
As expected, everyone is not casting their votes. Techies in Tamil Nadu are taking advantage of the long weekend and head out for holidays.
Incidentally, while it may not have the glamor and attention lavished on the ongoing elections in TN and Kerala (and Puducherry), there is a fairly significant election happening today in Jammu and Kashmir as well. The last time the state went in for panchayat polls was back in 2001; a decade later, voting has begun for elections to 4,128 panchayats, with polling scheduled to be held in sixteen phases lasting all the way to end-May. The extended length of the poll process is largely because of the need for high security consequent on terrorist threats to disrupt the polls. On the first day, today, reports speak of villatgers turning up in large numbers in various panchayat blocks in Jammu including Udhampur and Bishnah.
Money and freebies have always played a hand in elections -- but the sheer brazenness of the 'gifts for votes' schemes in Tamil Nadu is attracting international attention. Sample this story in the Los Angeles Times, which talks of the practice -- and the resulting ironies. Sample quote: "Neighbors crowded around the cardboard box containing a color television, one of dozens recently distributed in this community of mud-floored huts 25 miles from the bustling city of Chennai. There's only one problem: Nobody can use them.
"The ruling party said they'd give us TVs if we elected them, but what use are they?" said V. Amutha, 32, dressed in a pink sari. "We're without electricity, which we've been awaiting for the past 40 years."
In a live demonstration of the law of unintended consequences, Andhra Pradesh is feeling the heat of elections in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The Times of India reports that the UPA government at the center has been diverting AP's quota of central power from the southern grid to TN, while other poll-going states have been buying power at higher rates. Thus, the report says, earlier this week TN got 90 million units from the central quota, while AP where the demand is higher got only 49 million units.
What other media is saying:
In Tamil Nadu, This time round, it might just be Jayalalithaa who will snatch the CM's chair from Karunanidhi as surveys give a clear advantage to her.
If Twitter posts are anything to go by (they are not -- how many of the 70-odd million Indians voting today are on the micro-blogging site anyway?), polling percentages in Kerala should be high -- all reports thus far speak of long lines, with posts indicating possible two-hour waits before getting to exercise the franchise. Against that, Tamil Nadu when judged by Twitter posts seems relatively apathetic -- posters, in more or less identical words, have been describing this as the "choice between two sets of crooks", reflecting their disillusionment with a "choice" that is between Jayalalitha, whose wholesale corruption allied to autocratic ways caused her to lose the once enviable hold she had on the Tamil electorate, and Karunanidhi, who is increasingly seen as presiding over a corrupt dynasty wherein the extended family has converted the state into a milch cow of sorts.
Tamil Nadu State Election Commission: For information on recognised/unrecognised parties, symbols, notices.
Chief Electoral Officer of Kerala:Gives details of the Kerala polls- from polling stations to LIVE VIDEOS OF POLLING BOOTHS to the percentage of voter turnout. So far, since 8:00am, 4.7% have voted.
8:00 am: Kerala Polls: Voting began on Wednesday morning in all the 140 Assembly segments in Kerala, where the main fight is between the ruling LDF and the Congress-led UDF.
Meanwhile, Sushma Swaraj believes the BJP will have a much bigger presence in the southern states than the Congress and its alliances.
Targetting the Congress also was Kerala CM Achuthanandan who called Rahul Gandhi an Amul Baby.
About 6.91 crore voters will have the right to vote in these elections which may be the swan song of the political careers of chief ministers M Karunanidhi and V S Achuthanandan, both 87-years-old.
Around 4.59 crore voters can pick 234 legislators from 2,748 candidates, including 141 women. There will be 54,016 polling booths spread all across Tamil Nadu.
The prominent candidates in the fray are Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi (Tiruvarur), AIADMK General Secretary J Jayalalithaa (Srirangam) and actor-politician Vijaykanth of DMDK (Rishivandhiyam).
The Tamil Nadu outcome is bound to cast a shadow on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition in New Delhi in which the DMK is a key ally.
Chief Minister and DMK patriarch M. Karunanidhi is seeking election to the assembly for a record 12th time and as chief minster for the sixth time.
The DMK is seeking mandate for another term saying it fulfilled its 2006 electoral promises -- such as giving free colour televisions and providing welfare measures like free medical insurance, ambulance service, rice at Re.1 a kg and free houses to the needy.
The 2.2 crore electorate, including 1.19 crore women, will pick from among 971 candidates including 78 women. There are 20,758 polling stations.
Close to 4000 booths have been identified as sensitive. Malappuram has maximum number of sensitive booths and Kottayam the least. Micro observers or videopgraphers are to be deployed in sensitive booths.
Two pre-election surveys have indicated a victory for the UDF in the battle for the 140-member legislature.
The CPI-M has put up candidates in 84 constituencies, leaving the rest to its allies. In the UDF, the Congress is contesting from 84 constituencies.
Over 8.10 lakh electorates will decide the fate of 187 candidates including 79 Independents.
Prominent candidates in the fray are Chief Minister V Vaithilingam, Ministers E Valsaraj, M Kandasamy, Malladi Krishna Rao, M.O.H.F Shajahan and A Namasivayam, Speaker of the outgoing assembly R Radhakrishnan (all Congress), former Chief Ministers N Rangasamy (N R Congress) and R V Janakiraman (DMK) and former Ministers Chandragasu, Ananda Bhasakaran and Rajavelu (all N R Congress), Theni Jayakumar and Lakshminarayanan (both Congress).
For the first time in the Union Territory, all the 851 polling booths have been connected with webcasting to monitor the polling process.
Election Commission's appeal to voters of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry
Today, what is on offer for you is perhaps the best gift of our country to her citizens. It is the choice to elect your representative and your government.
Our machinery has worked day and night over the last many months to make it possible for each one of you to vote freely and fairly. We have tried to make this a simple and friendly experience too. Now it is your duty to exercise your franchise.
Don’t forget to take your EPIC card to the polling booth or other prescribed documents if you have not been given an EPIC.
All of you who are on the electoral roll must come out and press the button of your own future and carry home the ink mark of personal pride on your finger.
Please go by your conscience. Vote without fear. Vote without any inducement.
Election Commission of India