For the second time this year, the run-up to the RK Nagar bye-polls has been fraught with controversy. While the April polls at the constituency was eventually rescinded following allegations of voter bribery, this time around candidates - actor Vishal and late Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s niece Deepa Jayakumar have raised questions over the democratic process after their individual nominations were rejected by the Returning Officer.
On Tuesday, the Returning Officer rejected actor Vishal's nomination papers on the grounds that he did not fulfil the conditions, with only 8 valid proposers backing his candidature. In a statement issued late on Tuesday night, Returning Officer Velusamy stated that Vishal’s nomination papers had come under scrutiny after objections were raised over the genuinity of the proposers. The RO goes on to state that two proposers – Sumathy and Deepan – had appeared in person and “submitted written representation that they had not proposed the nomination of Thiru Vishal Krishna and their signatures have been forged”.
Vishal, in return, had denied that the signatures were forced and went to the officer with a recording of a phone conversation that he claims to have had with the husband of Sumathy, who is one of the proposers.
TNM has accessed this phone conversation which Vishal says he had with a man named Velu. TNM, however, cannot vouch for the authenticity of the audio clip. In this recording, the speaker on the other end tells Vishal that men belonging to AIADMK candidate Madhusudhanan's camp threatened the women in his house and told them to say that their signature was forged.
Vishal: Velu, this is Vishal. Have you given a written submission saying that the signature isn’t yours?
Velu: They are threatening the women at home.
Vishal: Who has threatened them?
Velu: They came and called the women at 3pm. I wasn’t at home then. My wife’s sister called saying that they are calling.
Vishal: Who called them?
Velu: Madhusudhanan's team
Vishal: Why did they call?
Velu: They called saying – 10 of you have signed. Give a complaint saying you didn’t put the sign and your signature is forged. It’s so that your nomination will get rejected.
Vishal: So just because they threatened, you wrote a complaint is it?
Velu: I wasn’t at home when they came and took them. They made me sit in a room.
Vishal: Which room? Tell me clearly.
Velu: They made me sit in Madhusudhanan’s office. They told me to wait here until they come back. They took the women from home and tutored them on what to say. They took it in writing, and took a video recording.
Vishal: Who took video recording?
Velu: RH Rajesh’s team took it.
Velu: He gave me cash.
Vishal: How much cash did they give?
Velu: I don’t know. They gave me a bundle of Rs 2000 notes.
Vishal: So, you decided to sell yourself for money?
Velu: No sir. I didn’t take the money. I am not that kind of person. I work hard and earn a living. I don’t need it – I told them. I told them I am in Vishal’s party. I won’t do it. So, they took the women away separately.
Vishal: Where did they take them?
Velu: To that election building. They took them to the zone office and told them to say it is forged signatures.
Vishal: Where are the women now?
Velu: They are at home. They are feeling very bad. They are crying.
Vishal: It’s not a problem for them to feel bad. But ask them to come and say that I didn’t write this.
Velu: They are scared they will come on TV
Vishal: I am doing this for the good. They have a heart, right? Ask them to say that I ddn’t write this.
Velu: Okay, I will bring them.
While the allegations made are alarming in nature and require further investigation, the Returning Officer concluded on Tuesday that the veracity of the person speaking cannot be ascertained. In a statement to the press Velusamy said, “Upon the summary hearing, it is clear that two proposers, namely Smt Sumathy and Thiru Deepan have appeared in person and staked claim that it was not their valid signatures and the representative of the nominee of Thiru Vishal Krishna only brought a telephonic audio clip, the veracity of the person speaking therein cannot be ascertained and hence I conclude that the required number of the proposers have not validly proposed the candidature of Thiru Vishal Krishna."
Actor Vishal who spoke to TNM following the turn of events on Tuesday termed the incident “the most alarming subversion of democracy” that he has seen in the country in recent times.
"If they can accept evidence against me, then they should have taken into consideration the recording as well. The two proposers should have been called again and examined," says the actor. "I was there the entire day and had gone to get something to eat for 10 minutes when these two proposers were brought to the building," he adds.
Pointing out the allegations of harassment, Vishal says, "Why are these party men harassing a commoner? Velu and his wife Sumathy have been threatened and it is the RO's duty to look into this further. Because I am a well-known figure, this injustice is coming out into the open. What would happen if it just a common man?" he asks.
Vishal now states that he will not accept the RO's decision and will take this matter to the Election Commission. "I have to keep fighting because this will set a very bad example in a democracy. The RO has to come out and explain his decision," states the actor.
A perceptibly angry and disappointed Vishal had taken to Twitter hours after the RO's statement to express his disappointment in the system. The RK Nagar elections are set to take place on December 21.