Do our parties believe in power to the people?

MATHIHALLI MADAN MOHAN writes from Hubli: There is an air of unreality even as the three major political parties in the State flex their muscle in the panchayat elections now underway.

Firstly, all the three parties have left no stone unturned to raise the hype over the outcome of the poll and say that the future of the government depends on it.

The reality is that the elections for the taluk panchayat and zilla panchayat elections have no role to play in determining the political fortunes of beleaguered B.S. Yediyurappa.

The verdict will not in any way affect the balance of power in the state assembly, where, at the moment, Yediyurappa appears to be well ensconced.

In the case of the rural voters trusting BJP for running the panchayat institutions, Yediyurappa may well claim that his policies have received a mandate from the people and cock a snook at his detractors who have been baying for his blood for months now.

In the case of an adverse vote against the BJP, the Congress and JDS may go to town claiming that the people have shown their displeasure and may demand that Yediyurappa should demit office.

To no one’s surprise, the CM will reject such a demand by taking the stand that it does not reflect the mood of the people since urban voters were not a part of the election process. And in any case his future has to be decided on the floor of the legislature and not in a panchayat election.

The BJP national president Nitin Gadkari who had said that Yediyurappa had been given a reprieve till the panchayat elections also will not be able to secure the resignation of Yediyurappa because of the likely adverse impact it may have on the only saffron government in the south.

Secondly, all the three parties, have been conveniently ignoring the core issue of the panchayat elections, namely of how efficiently these institutions of democratic decentralization could be run to ensure that the money meant for rural development is spent properly for the benefit and improvement of stake holders and how they can remove the impediments coming in the way.

All the three parties without an exception have been busy beating around the bush on the issue of empowerment of these institutions and talk of rural development programmes as if rural development programmes are synonymous with panchayat empowerment.

None of them, including the ruling BJP, are telling people about their commitment to empower panchayat institutions. Even if they do, whatever they say will have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

It is because all of them have a uniform record of emasculating the panchayats as far as possible and have abetted moves to subtly withdraw the powers given to them by law.

They would have succeeded in their endeavour to turn them into their vassals but for the constitutional safeguards that these institutions enjoy thanks to the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments.

There have been occasions when the Congress tried its best to avoid regular elections before the expiry of the term. The BJP too would have tried this time to postpone the poll but went ahead due to sheer political compulsions and prospects of the political advantage it could derive in the process.

This was the direct consequence of the reduction of seats reserved for the OBCs as per the direction of the Supreme Court, and everybody knows that it is a constituency in which BJP is not comfortably placed.

More than the political parties, their MLAs regardless of the political divide are dead opposed to any move to empower the panchayats since they fear that any alternate leadership which may emerge in the rural areas as a consequence may prove to be inimical to their position.

They have not lost a single occasion to put these institutions down, deride them and talk about the rampant corruption in the panchayat  institutions, forgetting the fact that they are the fountain heads of corruption and have not lifted a finger to fight corruption.

It is a case of kettle calling the cup black.

The report of the third State Finance Commission headed by A.G. Kodgi, which has recommended a new formula for sharing the resources between the State government and the panchayats has been with the State government for more than a year but neither the ruling party nor the opposition are bothered about the implementation of the report.

The Constitution enjoins that the States appoint the state finance commission to ensure a fair devolution of finances to enable the panchayats to discharge the responsibilities given to them.

The implementation of the recommendations of the previous two finance commissions has been quite tardy and there appears to be no early prospects of the latest one being implemented.

At the end of the day, the point at issue is whom should the rural voters prefer in the ensuing polls to the panchayat elections. One party is as bad as another and all of them are universally untrustworthy.  They have no chance but to vote.

And political parties are there to utilise the opportunity for their political aggrandizement and have hardly any time to give any thought for  strengthening of the system, whose vitality has been sapped by the subtle moves of the government to keep all these institutions under their bureaucratic thumbs.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News