The block pramukh elections in the three-tier panchayati raj (rural decentralization) system of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, took place on July 10 Saturday. The block pramukh is elected at the second tier. Many members are elected at the block level directly by people and these in turn elect the block pramukh. Hence direct voting by people is not involved in electing the block pramukh, making it easier for the more powerful and resourceful to ‘manage’ the election in their favor, or use money and muscle power to influence election result. This has been happening earlier also but was evidence at a much bigger and serious level this time, both on the nomination day as well as the voting day .
As reported , about 77000 elected block council members were supposed to elect 825 block pramukhs in these elections, or around 90 members were supposed on average to elect one block pramukh. For these 825 seats around 1778 candidates had initially filed their nomination papers. Of these about 68 were rejected. Around 187 withdrew. In many constituencies only one candidate contested.
As various media sources reported, there were numerous cases of aspiring candidates ( and their supporters ) coming for nomination being intimidated, their papers being torn or snatched, threats, violence, use of gun fire or even bombs, with such reports being received from several other districts of the state including Sitapur, Fatehpur, Lakhimpur, Lalitpur, Jhansi, Sidharthnagar etc.
The overall result was that even before the elections took place on July 10, already by July 9 349 block pramukhs were declared elected without contest, 334 of them owing their allegiance to the BJP. Thus about two-fifths or about 40 per cent of the total of 825 block pramukh posts were already claimed by the BJP even before the actual voting could start on the morning of July 10. This is surely a strange position in a state where political rivalries are extremely intense, and where the direct voting by people results in the panchayati raj elections had earlier revealed the Samajwadi Party to be in the leading position, followed by the BJP at number two.
When the voting started on July 10, Saturday morning, again reports of violence, use of force and threats as well as firing kept pouring in from many places. Some of these were quite shocking.
Later on the same evening results were announced. These show that around 648 seats have been won by BJP supported candidates. The figure may diverge a little later ( this is the estimate available on the night of July 10 at the time of writing), but there is little doubt that the BJP is celebrating this as a big victory and congratulations are pouring in at high levels.
As this writer had reported earlier, similar pattern was seen in the zila ( district ) panchayat president results at the highest third tier level, where the BJP swept 67 of the 75 seats, while 21 of these had already been claimed due to lack of contest before the actual voting started.
At the same time, however, the earlier phase of the election voting involving direct voting by all voters of villages had given very different results and the Samajvadi Party was widely seen to be in the number one position. This widely held perception was not changed even when the BJP claimed to be in the number one position by counting the large number of independent winners as its own.
So a question which people are asking is how despite its number two position when people voted directly, the BJP managed to get such huge victories in the indirectly contested elections where the room for manipulation was much higher. In addition the very high levels of violence seen in this election ( whose videos are being widely shared) had not been seen during recent years in this state. This has shocked people particularly at a time when the Assembly elections are only a few months away.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine ( Gandhian Ideas for Our Times) and Protecting Earth for Children.