The Election Commission’s announcement on Monday that it will hold bye-elections in Tamil Nadu’s Tiruvarur Assembly constituency on January 28, while leaving out 19 other vacant constituencies in the state, has left observers perplexed. But the residents of Tiruvarur, which was severely hit by Cyclone Gaja in November, are particularly angry because the announcement of the poll date means that the model code of conduct has kicked in. This has led to the discontinuation of the distribution of relief materials in the constituency.

“Now, the entire district official machinery will be diverted to the election process,” said journalist Ilangovan Rajasekaran. “This constituency is still in the process of recovery. This is a bad precedent. It raises very serious suspicions in Tamil Nadu about the Election Commission’s motives to conduct the bye-polls in Tiruvarur at a time when the people of the constituency are yet to recover from the disaster.”

Since the announcement was made, sporadic protests erupted in several villages in the district.

A resident of Segarai village in Mannargudi, who did not want to be identified, said that relief materials for 760 homes in his village had arrived by December 31 and were distributed to 450 homes. He said the distribution was stopped soon after the poll schedule was announced even though some households had still not received their share.

“We have written to the Election Commission to seek their approval to disburse the relief materials,” said District Collector L Nirmal Raj.

No Pongal gift

Cyclone Gaja swept through Tamil Nadu more than 40 days ago, leaving a trail of destruction in nearly 10 coastal and delta districts.

In Tiruvarur, one of the worst-affected districts, both power and the drinking water supply are yet to be completely restored and people in some of its remote villages are still awaiting relief materials.

The bye-poll announcement also means that the people of this constituency will not receive the state government’s Pongal largesse. On Wednesday, the government had announced that it would provide Rs 1,000 cash in addition to the usual gift hamper comprising rice, sugar, raisins, cashew nuts, cardamom and sugarcane that it distributes to all ration card holders for the harvest festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu on January 15.

‘No stay’

Tiruvarur Assembly constituency was the seat of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader M Karunanidhi who died in August.

Opposition parties have asked why the bye-election is being held only in this constituency when there are 19 other vacant constituencies. For instance, Thiruparakundram also fell vacant in August after its MLA AK Bose, of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Kazhagam, died. There are another 18 Assembly constituencies without legislators after the Madras High Court, in October, upheld the disqualification of All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam MLAs loyal to sidelined leader TTV Dhinakaran.

On Thursday, the High Court refused to stay the bye-elections after a petitioner sought the court’s intervention, pleading that polls will hamper relief work in cyclone-hit areas.

Parties gear up for poll

The protests have not stopped political parties from preparing for the election and they have started the process of finalising their candidates.

The birthplace of Karunanidhi, Tiruvarur has been a stronghold of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). While the constituency was represented six times by legislators from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Communist Party of India (Marxist) candidates were elected four times.

The Communist Party of India has decided to back the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam here. “We have decided to extend our support to any candidate that Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam fields,” said D Pandian, Communist Party of India leader.

He added: “Modi and Election Commission have to explain why the bye-election has been announced only in this Assembly constituency.”