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Campaign for high stakes bypolls to four constituencies ends

The campaign for the high-stakes by-elections to four constituencies in Tamil Nadu ended Friday evening, with the polling all set to take place on Sunday, amidst heavy deployment of around 16,000 personnel.

The outcome of the by-polls to a total of 22 seats will decide the future political course in Tamil Nadu as the results would determine the continuance of the two year-old Palaniswami government.

While by-elections to 18 seats were held on April 18, along with the 38 Lok Sabha segments, four others--Sulur, Aravakurichi, Ottapidaram and Thiruparankundram go to the polls on May 19.

Arch rivals AIADMK and DMK have left no stone unturned to ensure victory, with their leaders, Chief Minister K Palaniswami and DMK President M K Stalin embarking on a hectic campaign trail in order to win the race.

Seeking to play spoilsport to the two Dravidian majors, T T V Dhinakaran-led AMMK, Kamal Haasan's Makkal Needhi Maiam and actor-director Seeman's Naam Tamizhar Katchi have fielded candidates in the four constituencies, making the contest multi-cornered.

The campaign trail turned hot in its last leg, after Haasan stoked a major political row with his Hindu extremist remarks, labelling Mahatma Gandhi's killer Nathuram Godse as one.

He had said "free India's first extremist" was Godse and that he was a Hindu, drawing strong condemnation from BJP and the AIADMK, even as cases were filed against Haasan.

He, however, found support from the Congress' state unit and rationalist outfit Dravidar Kazhagam.

In the 234-member Tamil Nadu assembly with 22 vacancies, the AIADMK has a strength of 113, excluding the Speaker.

The simple majority mark in the full House is 117.

The principal opposition DMK, along with its allies, including Congress, has 97 MLAs. Its partner IUML has one legislator.

Incidentally, two MLAs of AIADMK's alliance parties, designated as its members in the assembly records since they contested on its symbol, have shown signs of stress with the ruling party.

Legislator S Karunaas, leader of Mukkulathor Puli Padai, has been anti-government for some time, while Manithaneya Jananayaga Katchi MLA M Thamimun Ansari,a strident BJP critic, backed the DMK-led alliance in the Lok Sabha polls after the AIADMK struck a poll pact with the saffron party.

Further, three AIADMK MLAs, siding with rival leader and AMMK founder TTV Dhinakaran, had been recently served notices by Speaker P Dhanapal for alleged anti-party activities.

While Stalin has been insisting Palaniswami will not continue as Chief Minister after the polls following the electoral mandate, the AIADMK Joint Coordinator has maintained his government's performance record will help the ruling party secure a comfortable win.

On Friday, Tamil Nadu Chief Electoral Officer Satyabrata Sahoo said 137 candidates are in the fray in the four Assembly segments, with Aravakurichi topping at 63 MLA aspirants.

A total of 15,939 police personnel will be on duty to avert any law and order issues, he told reporters here.

"The heavy police deployment is to ensure there is no law and order issue," he said.

Further, 5508 polling personnel will be on duty, he said.

Since the model code of conduct came into effect on March 10, a total cash Rs 156 crore had been seized by EC teams, he said.

Besides, the Income Tax department had recovered Rs 79.75 crore, he added.

Of the Rs 156 crore, Rs 114.5 crore has been returned to the owners. while the balance amount of Rs 42.36 crore "is still under investigation," Sahoo added.