`Doing away with GP polls is undemocratic'
Rishikesh Bahadur Desai, TNN Apr 28, 2010, 10.24pm IST
HUBLI: People of Nayi Tegur have not voted in a Gram Panchayat Election for 23 years now. Residents of a Mandya village elected a gram panchayat member who vowed to donate money to the temple of the village deity.
Villagers of Gumageri, Bhagya Nagar and Huchaganur in Koppal have awarded GP seats to the highest bidders. Such incidents raise an important, yet uncomfortable question: Are elections evil?
Worse still, is that the government seems to be supporting such ideas. In an interview with the `Times of India' some time ago, RDPR minister Jagadish Shettar said the government was considering rewarding villages where people chose their representatives unanimously and avoided elections. Elections, he believes, cause a lot of discord in the villages and avoiding them is the way to harmony.
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An officer on special duty to a minister has announced panchayats forgoing polling will be rewarded Rs 1 lakh from the government. Former PM H D Deve Gowda has sought his suspension.
However, experts say, wishing away elections in the Panchayat Raj bodies is against the spirit of the Constitution.
"Elections are essential in a democracy, more so in the rural local bodies. You can't imagine a panchayat without elections. Ruling out polls in panchayats reflects a centralist mendacity that refuses to empower local bodies," former MLA and state president of the Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Raj Sanghatan D R Patil said.
Former chairman of the Backward Classes Commission, Ravi Verma Kumar, feels bypassing elections will deprive political opportunities to the deprived classes and backward castes. "That will only ensure the continued hegemony of the upper classes and forward castes. That is not what was intended by the founding fathers of the nation," he said.
"If avoiding elections leads to harmony, then doing away with Panchayat Raj institutions should lead to permanent harmony. But that is not true," Prof Abdul Azeez of the Institute of Social and Economic Change said. Prof Azeez, a member of the first Panchayat Raj Bill Drafting Committee in 1987, believes empowering panchayats is the only way to emancipate deprived masses in rural areas.
"The principle that people should rule themselves by electing their representatives was established in ancient Greece. It has been withheld by thinkers like Plato. The electoral system has evolved in Great Britain, where it was first adopted 600 years ago. Trying to say that panchayat members should be selected by bids through donations is being undemocratic," he said. "If a civil war-ravaged country like Sudan can have elections, why cant we?," he wondered.
The level of public awareness in Kerala is so high that they agitate against the authorities if the panchayat does not deliver, said Azeez. "The voters make sure the elected representative works for them. I am sure we will reach this level of awareness soon," he added.
"An election by itself is not evil. The way it is conducted can be. This can be fixed with commitment and vision. I am hopeful this will all change soon," Prof Azeez said.