The 2021 Assembly Elections is undoubtedly one of the highlights of this extraordinary year, as it is the first election that is taking place in the state which is still not out of the grip of the COVID crisis.
The government as well as the officials of the Election Commission deserve plaudits for ensuring that all 234 constituencies in the state went to the polls in one single phase, keeping in mind the necessity to carry out this democratic exercise in a fluid, incident-free manner. Interestingly, this is also the first time in Tamil Nadu when the Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail or VVPAT system is being used. It is a system that helps voters confirm that the vote they have cast has gone to the person they intended to vote for.
It is a sizable electorate if one considers the number of people eligible to vote in TN – 6.28 cr voters made up of 3.19 cr women and 3.09 cr men, as well as 7,100 voters belonging to the third gender. Ensuring the safety of each and every voter is not an easy task, considering this is an exercise that is being carried out without the luxury of any kind of trials or mock runs. While most polling stations had taken adequate COVID-19 precautions like distribution of rubber gloves and sanitisers and ensuring social distancing, violations as well as technical snags and administrative oversights were also part and parcel of this exercise.
For instance, residents in Otteri complained about the absence of safety measures in polling booths, which deterred many from casting their votes. Snags in EVMs also became a cause of concern in constituencies like Perambur, where voting was halted for two hours on account of a complaint from a voter. For many others, whose names were altogether missing from the electoral rolls, the right to exercise their franchise remained a pipe dream. Similarly, the lack of convenient ramps has remained a pain point for specially-abled voters.
Reports from Tuesday evening suggested that Tamil Nadu recorded a poll percentage of over 70%, compared to a ‘total’ poll percentage of 74.24% recorded in 2016. Ironically, the 6-7 pm slot reserved for COVID positive patients was also underutilised as 94 patients who had been hospitalised and under home observation declined from voting on account of poor health.
Despite the hiccups, April 6 will be considered a red-letter day for Tamil Nadu for a few reasons. In spite of the spike in COVID cases, the people of the state set aside their apprehensions, placed their faith in the government machinery and showed their respect for the democratic process by coming out to vote in droves. As citizens, they have done their duty. Now, it falls fairly and squarely upon whoever that comes into power - to live up to the trust reposed in them. It’s essential that the victors remember this sacrifice, and work towards steering the state to a path of growth and recovery over the next five years.