The citizens in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry are turning up in large numbers to cast their votes for the state legislative assembly elections. While over 12 per cent of the total voters cast their ballots in the first two hours in Kerala, Tamil Nadu showed a brisk 18.3 per cent turnout, followed by Puducherry, where 10 per cent of the voters had already cast their votes.
This election will decide the fate of Chief Ministers Jayalalithaa and Oommen Chandy and their arch rivals and nonagenarians M Karunanidhi and VS Achutanandan in their respective states which will witness multi-cornered contests.
Counting of votes in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry, where rival candidates fought a gruelling two-month campaign in peak summer, along with West Bengal and Assam, will be taken up on 19 May to decide the outcome of what is being described as 'mini' general elections.
The BJP is seeking to make inroads in Tamil Nadu and Kerala where the power has oscillated between the AIADMK and the DMK and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the CPI-M led Left Democratic Front (LDF) respectively for decades.
Besides AIADMK supremo Jayalalithaa and 91-year-old wheelchair-bound Karunanidhi, the poll arena in Tamil Nadu also has two other chief ministerial candidates-actor-turned politician Vijayakant of DMDK-PWF-TMC combine and PMK's Anbumani Ramadoss.
A total of 3,740 aspirants are in the fray for the 233 assembly seats.
Of the total 234 constituencies, polling will be held in 233 seats as the Election Commission had deferred the process in Aravakurichi segment in Karur district to 23 May due to "unlawful" activities of candidates and political parties in "bribing" voters. Counting of votes in Aravakurichi will be taken up on 25 May.
Election authorities have seized more than ₹100 crore unaccounted cash in the state, the largest among the five states involved in the Assembly polls.
More than a lakh police and paramilitary personnel would man over 65,000 polling booths across the state, which is witnessing a multi-cornered contest also featuring BJP, seeking to make a mark along with a few minor allies.
Jayalalithaa, seeking a second successive term in office, and Karunanidhi, eyeing to lead DMK to power after back-to-back drubbings in the 2011 assembly and 2014 Lok Sabha elections, are contesting from RK Nagar in Chennai and Thiruvarur respectively.
Voting for Tamil Nadu assembly elections underway: DMK Treasurer M K Stalin casts his vote in SIET College,Chennai. pic.twitter.com/QmtzITjO6V— ANI (@ANI_news) May 16, 2016
R K Nagar has the maximum number of candidates at 45, with DMK (Shimla Muthuchozhan) and VCK (Vasanthi Devi) also fielding women nominees to take on Jayalalithaa. BJP's M N Raja is also in the fray.
BJP's candidates include its National Secretary H Raja and state President Tamilisai Sounderrajan.
Positioning itself as a viable third front, the combine of DMDK, People's Welfare Front comprising Vaiko's MDMK, CPI-M, CPI and VCK and Tamil Maanila Congress led by G K Vasan has also attacked both DMK and AIADMK, which have ruled the state alternately in recent decades, and pushed for a change.
Tamil Nadu is known to generally elect one clear winner from the two Dravidian giants, DMK and AIADMK, since 1967.
Everyone should vote, that is a duty: Rajinikanth after casting his vote in Chennai's Stella Maris College. pic.twitter.com/NwABfJvBJj— ANI (@ANI_news) May 16, 2016
In Kerala, the ruling UDF and LDF, which had gone hammer and tongs at each other during the electioneering, are keeping their fingers crossed even as BJP is hoping to get a toe-hold.
A total of 1,203 candidates, including 109 women, are contesting for the 140 assembly seats.
Besides Congress's Chandy and Achutanandan, the 92-year- old CPI-M veteran, and his party colleague Pinarayi Vijayan, Home Minister Ramesh Chennithala(Congress), IUML leader and Industries Minister P K Kunhalikutty, former Finance Minister K M Mani (Kerala Congress-M), BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan, former Union minister O Rajagopal and cricketer Sreesanth are among the key candidates.
Some Mollywood actors are also in the fray.
BJP has thrown its hat in the poll arena in the state known for its bipolar polity after stitching up an alliance with the newly floated Bharat Dharma Jana Sena, a party floated by the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, an organisation of the backward Ezhava Hindu community. BJP is yet to open an account either to the Assembly or Parliament from Kerala.
The two month-long hectic campaign in soaring summer heat saw national leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who made three trips to the state to address five meetings, wooing the voters.
Modi's controversial Kerala-Somalia comparison saw the Malayalee sentiment getting hurt, with social media going viral with the hash tag #Po mone Modi# (go off Modi) and the two rival fronts attacking him for the remark.
However, BJP defended the Prime Minister, saying people were "twisting facts" on his remarks and he had only highlighted the plight of the tribal community in the state and his desire to improve their living conditions.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and other party leaders including A K Antony and Ghulam Nabi Azad, CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, CPI National Secretary Sudhakar Reddy, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar (CPI-M), former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar were among the prominent politicians who campaigned for their respective party candidates.
Achutanandan, LDF's poll mascot, hit the campaign trail despite his advanced age and sweltering heat.
The solar scam and brutal rape and murder of a Dalit woman in the state were among other key issues that figured during the campaign.