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‘Partyless’ Panchayat Polls: End the Hypocrisy

By Sandeep Sahu

Everyone knows it is a blatant lie, but no one really seems to mind. The lie that panchyat elections are ‘not fought on party basis’ has been perpetuated for far too and it is high time it was given a decent – and permanent – burial.

Of course, there are other myths in our political system that have lasted just as long. Take, for example, the supposedly ‘partyless’ college and university elections. But after every college election, every major party shouts from the roof tops about the number of college unions it has won. It would be no different when the final results of the five-phase panchayat elections are formally announced on February 25. All three principal contenders – BJD, BJP and Congress – will make claims about the number of sarpanch posts they have won – rules be damned. [The funny part is more often than not, the figures quoted by the parties add up to a number significantly higher than the total number of sarpanch posts!]

Of course, the idea behind the decision to make the panchayat elections – except for the Zilla Parishad seats – is unexceptionable. It was to keep the development process at the grassroots level free from the harmful effects of party loyalty that have bedevilled much of our polity. Since the panchayat is at the bottom of the democratic pyramid and the centre of the bottoms up planning process that the three-tier Panchayati Raj system was expected to usher in, it makes eminent sense not to allow party rivalries to vitiate the atmosphere.

But as in many other cases, our ingenious politicians have devised a way to make a mockery of the provision while paying lip service to party-less elections. Of late, however, even this pretence is being discarded. Party leaders routinely set off on the campaign trail with candidates for Zilla Parishad, sarpanch, samiti members and ward members in tow without batting an eyelid. In the run up to this round of Panchayat polls, the media has reported several cases of posters seeking votes for sarpanch candidates ‘supported’ by a particular political party. There have also been cases of a single poster seeking votes for the Zilla Parishad and Sarpanch/Samiti Member, one on party symbol and the other on a non-party symbol! No one – certainly not the voters – is fooled, with the exception of the State Election Commission which, ironically, is supposed to ensure that panchayat elections are not fought on party basis.

It is perhaps time to end the hypocrisy and allow Panchayat elections to be fought on party symbols. After all, we have seen that the original intention behind having partyless panchayat elections has long gone for a toss. Conversely, what harm can it possibly do – which it is not already doing – if we allow party symbols to be used by candidates in all tiers of panchayat elections? Moreover, allowing Zilla Parishad elections to be fought on party symbols while denying the privilege to the sarpanches, samiti members and ward members defies logic and common sense. There is simply no point in carrying on with a rule that is breached more often than it is observed.

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