Chennai, May 6: Campaigning for the May eight Assembly election in Tamil Nadu, being seen as the toughest in the state's political history, ended at 1700 hrs today.
Over 4.63 crore voters, including 2.33 crore women, will decide the fate of 2,586 candidates in the fray.
AIADMK supremo and Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, DMK President M Karunanidhi, actor-politician Vijayakanth, DMK Deputy General Secretary M K Stalin and State Ministers are some of the star candidates testing their electoral fortunes.
The Election Commission has imposed a ban on electioneering of any kind for a period of 48 hours ending at 1700 hrs on the polling day and warned of imprisonment of two years or with fine or both if there is any violation.
Ms Jayalalithaa, who took the lead and hit the road first, wound up her more-than-a-month-long campaign at Nungambakkam in the city, while Mr Karunanidhi concluded his gruelling electioneering by addressing a public meeting along with former Prime Minister V P Singh at his Chepauk constituency.
MDMK General Secretary Vaiko, who set the tone for the no-holds-barred campaign with his fiery speeches, concluded the electioneering with a public meeting at Kovilpatti. While PMK founder S Ramadoss ended his campaign at Kancheepuram, Vijayakanth wound up the campaign at Vriddhachalam, from where he was testing the political waters.
Equalling the searing summer heat, a high voltage campaign was witnessed in the state, with both the ruling AIADMK and the Opposition DMK waging a do-or-die battle to take over the political reins.
Announcement of freebies, political rhetoric and retorts, open challenges, personal attacks and charges of corruption marked the no-holds-barred campaign.
Ms Jayalalithaa chose to dwell on the achievements of her five-year rule this time, departing from her usual style of attacking opponents.
However, she never missed an opportunity to take to task the 13 Union Ministers from the state for having done 'precious little' for the development of Tamil Nadu.
When the DMK's attractive poll promises of free colour TV, one kg rice at Rs two, two acres of land and waiver of co-operative loans began to catch the imagination of voters, Ms Jayalalithaa matched it with the announcement of 10 kg free rice, four grams of gold and waiver of cooperative loans.
While Ms Jayalalithaa consciously refrained from attacking her political rivals, her ally MDMK General Secretary Vaiko, ammunition of the AIADMK front, launched a virulent attack on Mr Karunanidhi and Union Minister Dayanidhi Maran for 'fostering dynastic politics.' His allegation that Mr Maran attempted to arm-twist Tata Group on the DTH deal created ripples both at the state and national level.
The AIADMK's other ally DPI General Secretary Thol Thirumavalavan focussed mainly on the northern districts of Tamil Nadu, where his party had considerable influence.
The DMK front's campaign was spearheaded by Mr Karunanidhi and his alliance leaders. Notwithstanding his old age and frail health, the octogenarian DMK chief criss-crossed the state in a specially-designed hi-tech vehicle and addressed several public meetings. Pointing out that he had already held the Chief Minister's post four times, he told the voters that he was striving to oust the Jayalalithaa government not from the lust for power but to free the people of her 'dictatorial' rule.
He also asserted that the freebies announced in the DMK's election manifestos were not mere poll promises and they would be implemented immediately after he assumed power.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi also flew in to mobilise support for the candidates of the DMK-led DPA.
DMK Deputy General Secretary M K Stalin, PMK founder S Ramadoss, CPI(M) state Secretary N Varadharajan, CPI state Secretary D Pandian, Union Ministers P Chidambaram, Dayanidhi Maran, G K Vasan, Anbumani Ramadoss and E V K S Elangovan were some of the star campaigners for the DMK front.
National leaders L K Advani, M Venkaiah Naidu, Prakash Karat, Sitaram Yechury, D Raja, Brinda Karat, Deve Gowda and Mayawati also pitched in to support their respective candidates.
A galaxy of stars, including Kollywood's former dream girl Simran, added glamour and sheen to the election mela and enthralled people, particularly those in rural areas.
While Simran, actors Vindhiya, Kovai Sarala, Murali, Senthil, Visu and Radha Ravi canvassed votes for the AIADMK and its allies, the DMK front's star brigade comprised Bhagyaraj, Vijaya T Rajender, Napolean, Thyagu and Chandrasekhar.
The pre-election scenario also threw up a lot of surprises with various political personalities switching sides. The biggest surprise among them was probably actor Sarathkumar's walkout from the DMK and joining the AIADMK.
The actor, who is a Nadar and popular among the community, quit the DMK protesting against alleged dynastic politics in that party.
DMK MLA Asokan, representing Thiruvarur constituency, also joined the AIADMK in protest against denial of party ticket to him to contest again.
The DMK, on the other hand, accepted into partyfold State Sports Minister Inbathamilan, who was not renominated by the AIADMK. Former AIADMK Minister Indrakumari, BJP MLAs Arasan and Jagaveerapandian are some of the notable personalities who switched loyalties.
Except for alleged suicide of a nominee of the All India Forward Bloc (AIFB) in Madurai, there was no major incident so far that marred the election process. AIFB state President and actor M Karthik's charge that his party candidates were threatened by AIADMK created ripples in the political circles, but made no big impact on the masses.
Even as the AIFB nominee for Andipatti, where Ms Jayalalithaa is seeking re-election, withdrew his candidature in a dramatic turn of events, a niece of the AIADMK's late founder MGR levelled a shocking allegation that she was attacked and prevented from filing nomination in Andipatti.
The campaign is less visible this time, with the Election Commission strictly implementing the Model Code of Conduct. The prohibition on writing on walls and graffiti could have made the electioneering less colourful, but the political parties compensated it with organising dance and musical programmes to capture the attention of voters.
Capitalising on the IT revolution and technological development, the politicians also reached the electorate through SMS and e-mail.
Political parties also resorted to advertisements on FM stations and TV channels, making it hi-tech electioneering.
The AIADMK is contesting 182 seats, leaving 52 seats to its allies- MDMK 35, Dalit Panthers of India 9, two each to the Indian National League and a faction of Congress's trade union wing INTUC, one each to JD(S), an IUML splinter group, Moovendra Munnetra Kazhagam and AIFB's Santhanam faction.
The DMK is contesting 129 seats, leaving 48 seats to Congress, 31 to PMK, 13 to CPI-M, 10 to CPI and three to IUML. This is the second time that the DMK is contesting such a low number of seats. In 1980, the party had contested only 117 seats.
While the BJP is contesting 180 seats, Vijaykant's Desiya Murpooku Dravidar Kazhagam has jumped into the fray in all 234 constituencies.