Court
The date of polling for Tamil Nadu is sandwiched between the dates of two most important events of the Chithirai festival this year.
Wikimedia Commons/Bernard Gagnon [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

The Election Commission of India (ECI) made it clear at the Madras High Court on Thursday that it cannot postpone the election dates in view of the annual Chithirai festival in Madurai.

The ECI announced the dates for the upcoming general elections on March 10, and Tamil Nadu will vote in the second phase on April 18. However, realising that the date falls during Tamil Nadu’s annual Chithirai festival which will take place from April 8 to April 19, a man named Parthasarathy has filed a petition in the Madras High Court for the polling date to be moved.

In his petition to the Madurai bench of Madras High Court, Parthasarathy, a Madurai resident, stated since polling booths will be set up in the area where the festival will be celebrated, election work would be affected. Due to this, he said that ECI may not be in a position to provide sufficient security for polling booths as many police personnel will be deployed in and around Madurai city for the smooth conduct of the festival. He requested the court to therefore order the postponement of Lok Sabha polls in Madurai.

The petition was heard by a division bench consisting of Justices N Kirubakaran and SS Sundar. The ECI, in its response on Thursday, stated that the election dates cannot be postponed in Madurai and that an extra time of two hours will be provided to all polling booths in the constituency. It also said that if polling dates are postponed in Madurai alone, it will lead to many practical difficulties.

The judges then questioned ECI’s keenness on registering 100% voter turnout, since Chithirai festival is not restricted to Madurai alone. Around five lakh people are expected to throng Madurai to be a part of the celestial event. The judges then asked why can’t the election date for Tamil Nadu be changed instead of just postponing one constituency. The court also directed the ECI to file a response on the matter by Friday.

The festival is an annual event, celebrated in the Tamil month of Chithirai, which is April. It draws on Hindu mythology, on the events of goddess Meenakshi winning a war against evil, her marriage to the lord Shiva, and her brother Alagar's anger over the wedding, which culminated in him entering the river Vaigai.  The three events are re-enacted in and around the premises of Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple every year. This year, the Meenakshi pattabhishekam will be held on April 15, the divine wedding on April 17, and the event where Kallazhagar enters Vaigai river, on April 19.