Views of intellectuals on Recent held Panchayat Elections in Punjab – Context and Trends – 4

Umesh Baurai and Dr. Avnish Jolly, Chandigarh :Professor Mukherji had the following observations to make with respect to Punjab:(1)    Kinship and contest were closely linked. Candidates quite often are close kins of village or party influentials.

(2)    Three distinct modes of gaining power can be identified: (a) contest, (b) capture, and (c) seizure   of power. In the contest mode political parties compete with each other in seeking the mandate of the electorate for assuming power to govern. Following the rules of the game the contest is conducted and the winner declared In the capture mode, elements of force, of playing foul with rules of the game occur in a bid to win ‘by hook or crook’. In this mode the real mandate of the electorate is obscured. In the seizure mode there is not even any pretension of following the rules of the game. The rules are rejected and sought to be replaced by a different system altogether. In a given context one can analyse the contestation for power in terms of interplay of these three types.

.    (3) Factors like partisanization of Government Institutions by the ruling party, overarching patriarchy, singular vote for multiple categories (‘reserved’ and ‘general’), top-down model of development encouraging rent-seeking propensities, provide considerable scope for electoral manipulations.
(4) The phenomenon of ‘sarvasammati’ bears scrutiny. A large number of seats and Gram Panchayats reportedly decided against contesting, and in favour of ‘Sarvasammati’ (i.e unanimity). It is necessary to make a conceptual distinction between ‘uncontested’ and ‘unanimity’. Seats and Gram Panchayats may decide against holding a contest, but this may not be due to unanimity. It may be guided by the ‘capture mode’ involving threat of violence or reprisal after the election. If opposition space is curtailed through such intimidatory tactics it may prepare the soil for non-institutionalised violence.
(4)    The near-redundant status of the Gram Sabha, which hardly meets, is one the weakest aspects of the state of institutionalisation of the PRIs in Punjab.

Professor Mukherji was forthright in asserting the need for three priority policy decisions. The first related to the empowerment of the State Election Commissions on the model of the Election Commission of India. The State Election Commissions should be protected from the process of partisanisation of the State institutions by the ruling party. Only then will these Commissions be able to reverse the trend of partisanisation of the other government institutions.

The no less other-priority is to ensure that every position to be contested – in the ‘reserved’ and the ‘general’ categories – carries the legitimation of the entire electorate. The current practice of a voter marking a single vote in the ballot paper has to change.

Third, the principle of simultaneity must be followed in the counting of votes for all the three PRIs. Any practice or procedure that violates the principle of providing a level- playing ground for all the contesting parties whether in government or opposition must be strictly prohibited.

Finally, violence has no place in democratic competitive politics. The violence that took place in West Bengal and Punjab polls were inadmissible. The legitimate use of force of the State must ensure free and fair elections.

While concluding the whole discussion Mr. Manmohan Sharma observed that in these elections bureaucracy totally succumbed to the ruling party’s diktats. There was total chaos regarding the announcement of the notification of elections’ dates and allocation of seats for women and dalits. He emphasized that this whole process has challenged the very existence of PRIs.  There is an immediate need to take steps to revamp the system.
Prof. Krishan Sharma proposed the vote of thanks. He valued the inputs and in-depth understanding of all the panelists and appreciated the way Prof. Mukherjee synthesized the whole argument in a concrete manner and came up with substantial suggestions for the reform in PRIs in the context of Punjab.


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