Bengal Election

The recent panchayati raj ( rural decentralization ) elections held in Uttar Pradesh were regarded as very important at a political level. Many seasoned observers referred to these as a semi-final contest leading up to the final to be held next year in the form of  Assembly Elections in the politically most important state of India.

The three-tier panchayati election process in Uttar Pradesh which started over three months back has been completed in early July with the announcement of the results for the crucial post of Presidents of various Zila Panchayats. This is a very important post in the 3-tier system of rural decentralization set up in India following the 73rd Amendment of Constitution.

This latest phase of the panchayati raj election saw a huge victory for the BJP with the ruling party grabbing 67 of the total of 75 seats. This included the 21 tests for which it was declared uncontested winner in the last week of June. The Samajwadi Party (SP) got 5, including 1 uncontested.

Although this has been publicized by the BJP as a big victory, it is in fact a very curious result, considering that in the earlier phase of panchayati raj elections the BJP was emerging more as a loser.

Although these elections are not officially fought on political party lines, generally the support lines are well known and recognized . On this basis a disappointing performance by the BJP had been widely talked about and reported. Among other results, it was widely reported that the SP was in a comfortable number one position in terms of zila panchayat members. This was very weakly contested by the BJP by counting the independent winners as its own . However there was widespread recognition that the SP was easily in number one position, followed by the BJP at number 2 and the BSP at number 3. Since Zila panchayat members have a big role in  electing Zila Panchayat President, how can the Zila Panchayat President elections be swept so completely by the BJP?

In the interests of democracy and rural decentralization, this strange result has to be explained.

In terms of the earlier phase of the UP election some observers have stated repeatedly that the results were going very much against the BJP. Subramanian Swamy, a well-known leader of the BJP, conducted his own analysis of these results in terms of what this would imply in terms of Assembly seats. In a twitter post  dated May 6 he stated that as 46 Assembly constituencies in UP are  almost entirely urban, panchayati raj elections can reveal trends only for the remaining 357 out of the total of 403 constituencies here. Among these, on the basis of panchayati raj election results, he saw the SP leading in 243, the BJP just in 67 and other parties in 47. Swamy added in his post that if there is anything wrong in his analysis then this should be pointed out.

Other reviews emphasized the BJP losses in such strongholds as Ayodhya, Mathura and Varanasi ( rural areas).

This and other analysis of these election results must have set alarm bells ringing in the BJP as soon there were increasing reports of the BJP pouring in exceptionally high efforts into the last phase of zila panchayat President ( adhyaksha ) elections. Several political heavyweights, and much funds, were mobilized for this. Responsibilities were fixed.

In such situations generally two kinds of malpractices are used. Firstly, a lot of money is offered to elected members to buy votes. Since this is an indirect election, common people do not vote and only votes of a few elected members  ( a total of about 3000 in the entire state, an average of about 40 for one district) and perhaps a few others are involved. We are speaking here of the system prevailing in Uttar Pradesh, which may be somewhat different in some other states in accordance of the rules framed there to implement the 73rd amendment. Hence it becomes easy in such a system to influence election results by using corruption.

Secondly, another malpractice has been to use muscle power to stop some persons from voting, or else intimidating them not to vote or to change their allegiance. Goons , musclemen and even active or former dacoits are used for this. But in addition administrative and police officials have also been used at times to achieve this objective.

To be fair to the BJP, this is not the first time that such malpractices have been used. Earlier the SP and the BSP are also said to  have employed such rough and corrupt methods when these parties were very powerful. However such an amazing case of converting a losing trend into such a sweeping victory has seldom been seen before.

This can give a very bad name to the great experiment of rural decentralization in India, some aspects of which have won worldwide admiration. Hence it will be proper if a committee of eminent and independent experts of rural decentralization is set up to investigate this curious and mysterious episode of snatching a huge victory in the middle of a  clear losing trend. Secondly, it is important to reform the entire system of panchayati raj elections in some respects to reduce significantly the possibilities of corrupting influences.

Another unfortunate aspect of the roughly 3 month period of panchayati raj elections in Uttar Pradesh was that it roughly coincided with a period of a health crisis and significant excess mortality. In particular organizations of teachers reported a very large number of deaths of teachers who were deputed for various election related duties.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine ( Gandhian Ideas for Our Times) and When the Two Streams Met ( Freedom Movement of India). He is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now.


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