Chennai, May 10: A.P.J. Abdul Kalam became the first President last month to exhort all eligible citizens to vote, but his own brother was unable to do so today in his native Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu.
This occurred, not because of the voter apathy that his famous younger sibling had urged Indians to overcome, but because of electoral irregularities.
Kasim Mohammed Meeran Labbai, 86, was among a number of high-profile voters whose names were missing or struck off the electoral rolls as Tamil Nadu went to the polls. The widespread deletions and omissions were accompanied by news of an alleged shootout between a state minister and the Opposition MDMK candidate in Sivakasi.
Electronic voting machines malfunctioned at some booths, with nearly 45 having to be replaced; amid all this, 55-60 per cent of the electorate voted across the state.
There weren’t many complaints of bogus voting, but former ADMK minister Indira Kumari was caught allegedly trying to vote a “second time” in Madurai.
Kalam’s brother Labbai discovered to his shock this morning that his name had been deleted from the rolls when he turned up to vote at his booth in the Ramanathapuram Lok Sabha constituency. Labbai, who has been voting for the last 65 years, said he wondered what the fate of those living in rural areas would be if such irregularities could occur in Rameswaram.
“If one has no vote, of what use is security and other luxuries,” asked the 86-year-old, whose son’s name was also missing from the voters’ list. He was referring to the tight security at polling booths and calls by poll officials to turn up to vote fearlessly.
A DMK worker was stabbed to death at Kallikulam in the same constituency as Labbai’s.
On a day of electoral irregularities, citizens with voter identity cards were turned away by presiding officers in many booths as their names did not figure in the revised rolls or had been struck off.
Among those on the receiving end was T.S. Jayashankar, chief election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy’s nephew. He received a raw deal at the same Stella Maris College booth in central Chennai where Jayalalithaa voted.
The chief minister, accompanied by friend Sassikala, cast her vote around 10 am and was promptly surrounded by fellow-voters who complained about the irregularities.
By far, the most serious incident was the “shootout” involving sports minister Inba Tamizhan and Opposition candidate Sippiparai Ravichandran.
Ravichandran said Tamizhan’s car chased his and intercepted it when he was returning to Sattur from Virdhunagar this evening. The MDMK leader’s car got away and headed to Venkatachalapuram village, about 10 km away. But it was again intercepted and this time the minister allegedly fired five rounds “towards me”, Ravichandran said.