A spurt in violence, apparently driven by inter-party rivalry and fierce competition, was the most visible element of the elections in Tamil Nadu on April 18. This scale and magnitude of poll violence was not seen in the past 10 years. On Thursday (April 18), at least 10 people sustained injuries. More than 20 houses were damaged in stone-throwing incidents. In all places, the police resorted a lathi-charge to bring the situation under control and to disperse the crowd.
Previously, the state saw such violence on the counting day in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Clashes broke out between the Congress and the BJP cadres in the Sivaganga constituency after P Chidambaram was declared winner against BJP candidate RS Raja Kannappan. However, in the subsequent elections in 2011(Assembly), 2014 (Lok Sabha), and 2016 (Assembly), there were no major incidents of violence except minor skirmishes between the AIADMK and the DMK workers.
Political observers said factors like acute caste pride and the rising pre-eminence of ousted AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakaran could have played its part in inciting violence.
On polling day, violence broke out in Ariyalur of Chidambaram constituency between VCK and PMK cadres (AIADMK alliance partner) after the latter allegedly damaged the symbols of the VCK. In Chidambaram constituency, VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan is contesting as part of the DMK alliance. The AIADMK has fielded P Chandrasekar there.
Similarly, in Arani and Arakonam, violence broke out between AMMK cadres and the AIADMK alliance party cadres. As many as five people were injured in clashes and the subsequent police lathi-charge.
Manonmaniam Sundaraar University’s head of the department of Tamil A Ramasamy said the violence was not merely due to polls. He felt tension was prevalent on all days in the northern districts. “Though the PMK and the VCK would portray themselves as parties that accept democracy, they are still caste-based parties in the northern region. The people in the northern region are polarised on caste lines and they have been waiting for a chance to attack each other. They used the poll tension to attack the Dalits in the region,” Prof Ramasamy said.
He felt that there was intense tension in the region because of the pre-poll predictions that both the VCK candidates, Thol Thirumavalavan and D Ravikumar, contesting in Chidambaram and Villupuram constituencies respectively, had a higher chance of winning the election.
“The PMK, in the northern region, not only want to dominate the Dalits in the caste hierarchy but also intend to have an upper hand in politics. The violence is the outcome of the desperation of the PMK to make the AIADMK candidate in the locality win the election,” Ramasamy said, cautioning that there may be more violence on the result day if VCK candidates win.
University of Madras professor Ramu Manivannan said barring the Ariyalur violence it was all because of the tension among booth-level workers. “On polling day, all the pressure is on booth-level workers. So, the tension erupted because of very high competition between the parties in the fray,” Manivannan said.
Political commentator Chandra Bharathi said the TTV Dhinakaran factor was the reason for the clash between the cadres in Arani, Arakonam, and Kanyakumari constituencies. “Usually, the fight would be between the AIADMK and the DMK. But, now, except Chidambaram, the clash is between the AMMK and the AIADMK-led alliance parties. The AIADMK cadres are more angry with the AMMK, as they are splitting the votes,” Bharathi said.
As far as Kanyakumari is concerned, there are two factors. “One, the large-scale deletion of names from the voters’ list. Second, the BJP’s wrath on AMMK as the latter was denting their (the BJP’s) vote share. On poll day, this realisation dawned on them and triggered a desperate violence,” Bharathi added.