Chennai, March 1: The ruling ADMK in Tamil Nadu today wrested the Sattankulam Assembly seat from the Congress in a closely fought by-election that proved the former’s superior organisational network and reach.
ADMK candidate L. Neelamegavarnam defeated A. Mahendran of the Congress by 17,492 votes, the state election department announced here today. Neelamegavarnam polled 56,945 votes and Mahendran secured 39,453.
The other 23 candidates in the fray lost their deposits.
Chief minister Jayalalithaa’s single-handed campaign — spread over five days and backed by solid organisational support — has reinforced her charisma, kept her party’s winning streak going and taken its tally in the 234-member Assembly to 137 seats.
The voting pattern shows that the Congress secured the bulk of the minority votes in Sattankulam, particularly that of the Christian Nadars and Muslims, who disapproved of the ruling party’s anti-conversion law.
The ADMK, however, sailed through with the OBC Thevars and a sizeable section of the Dalits voting for the party.
A section of the minorities also apparently abstained from voting in a bid not to antagonise the ruling party.
The ADMK’s campaign thrust — that a vote for the ruling party would pay dividends for Sattankulam — seems to have paid off. A jubilant Jayalalithaa said her party had pulled off a “historic and incomparable victory”, despite “almost the entire Opposition” backing the Congress and the DMK’s implicit support to that party, as well as its vow to “teach her a lesson”.
“It once again proves that the people are with us and strengthens my belief that the ADMK’s strength is its mass-base and not any alliance with other parties,” asserted the ADMK chief.
However, the Congress differed. Tamil Nadu Congress Committee working president E.V.K.S. Elangovan termed the bypoll result a “victory for money power and political chicanery of the ruling party”.
The state Congress will continue to fight with renewed vigour “to defeat the evil forces”, undeterred by this “temporary setback”, he said.
DMK president M. Karunanidhi echoed Elangovan. “Crores of rupees were spent, official machinery misused and poll guidelines flouted by the ruling ADMK at Sattankulam,” alleged the former chief minister.
Even the Election Commission had rapped Jayalalithaa for offering a set of new projects just a few days before the polls, notwithstanding the chief secretary’s explanation that the chief minister had not made any “promises”, Karunanidhi said.
“But ADMK party organ Namathu MGR has reported Jayalalithaa’s speeches in full and perhaps only an election petition can bring out the truth,” said Karunanidhi.
He, however, emphasised that the DMK will not file such a petition as it had boycotted the polls.
The DMK chief evaded a reply on whether a direct, positive appeal by the party in favour of the Congress — instead of a call “to defeat the ADMK” — could have made a difference to the verdict.
Asked whether the BJP’s stance to also boycott the poll had constrained the DMK from making such a positive appeal, Karunanidhi quipped: “You may draw your own inference.”