Chennai: Actor Vishal's hopes of contesting the RK Nagar by-election in Tamil Nadu came crashing down late on Tuesday night after election officials rejected his nomination papers for the second time the same day. Officials said the film actor's nomination papers only had "valid" signatures of eight proposers, not the mandatory ten.
"I'm disappointed that entire system right now they need to give a proper answer, they just can't give a letter... it's for everyone to see. Today's world we have video, we have WhatsApp, we have all the evidence," the 40-year-old actor told NDTV.
The formal announcement by the Returning Officer Velusamy came after many twists and turns through the day. Hours earlier, Vishal Krishna, popularly known by his first name, had announced that his nomination papers had been accepted by the Election Commission after being rejected once.
Two of the ten people listed by the actor in the form had complained that their signatures had been forged.
"If two people had given a complaint that signatures are forged then they should have addressed that in front of the candidate... they should asked me... accepting one side of the argument is not right," Vishal said.
The actor had responded to the earlier decision to cancel his nomination papers with a street protest and later, release of an audio tape that suggested one of the two, Sumathi, had been coerced to withdraw her consent, allegedly by the ruling party.
The election commission said it could not ascertain the veracity of the person in the tape. Besides, the two proposers whose signatures were under scrutiny, Sumathi and Deepak, had appeared before its officials and underlined that the signature weren't theirs.
"I'd challenge this legally. This is mockery of democracy?" said Vishal, who had hoped to launch his political career with the by-election.
But Vishal wasn't the only one to lose out the chance to contest the by-election that is expected to see a high-decibel election campaign. The returning officer had earlier on Tuesday also rejected papers of J Jayalalithaa's niece Deepa Jayakumar because she had failed to fill several columns in her election affidavit. Ms Jayakumar has called it "political vendetta".
The field is still crowded with big names for the bye-election to fill the seat left vacant by the death of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms Jayalalithaa exactly one year ago on December 5. It's a prestige battle for the ruling AIADMK which needs to retain the seat to prove that it is not in complete disarray after its powerful leader died. It has fielded a senior leader, E Madhusudhanan, as its candidate.
Mr Madhusudhanan has represented RK Nagar before in the state assembly and is seen to have influence among Telugu people, who make up a sizeable chunk of voters in Chennai constituency.
The AIADMK will not miss Ms Jayakumar or Vishal in the fray. Both could have cut into the party's votes, Vishal because he is popular among the Telugu voters as he is from Andhra Pradesh and Deepa Jayakumar through any emotional association for voters as Ms Jayalalithaa's niece.
The party will no doubt seek votes in the name of Ms Jayalalithaa or Amma as she was known to her millions of fans and supporters. On her first death anniversary, party leaders and workers led by Chief Minister E Palaniswami, Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and other ministers paid tribute to their leader, many of them dressed in black.
Mr Madhusudhanan faces sidelined AIADMK leader TTV Dhinakaran, who is contesting as an independent candidate and the DMK's Marudhu Ganesh, an RK Nagar local who is seen by many as the front runner.
The DMK wants to win RK Nagar to deliver a big psychological blow to the AIADMK and bolster its claim that the ruling party has lost popular support after the death of Ms Jayalalithaa.
The main opposition party hopes for a favourable verdict in the 2G scam case against its top leaders MK Kanimozhi and A Raja. A court in Delhi said today that it will announce verdict on December 21, the same day as the by-election.
Mr Dhinakaran was appointed the AIADMK's deputy chief by his aunt VK Sasikala, who was then party chief, as she left for jail in a corruption case in February this year. They were both evicted by the party when the two factions led by Chief Minister Palaniswami and former CM O Panneerselvam merged in August. Mr Dhinakaran and Ms Sasikala have challenged that decision and claim to lead the real AIADMK, though their support in the party is dwindling.
Mr Madhusudanan's big advantage in the by-election is that he gets to contest on the AIADMK's famous two-leaves symbol, with the Election Commission recognising the united AIADMK as the "real" party and de-freezing the symbol.
The BJP has fielded a candidate too, while Left parties and the MDMK are supporting the DMK.
The RK Nagar by-election was to be held in April this year, but was cancelled amid allegations of voters being bribed. At that time then, Mr Dhinakaran was the AIADMK's official candidate and Mr Madhusudhanan was the rebel, fielded by the O Panneerselvam camp.