The Panchayat Polls: Hope and Fear

Bhubaneswar: The State Election Commission has notified the official schedule for the three-tier panchayat polls on Tuesday, 18 January. The election will be conducted in five different phases across the state, on the dates February 16, 18, 20, 22, and 24, and 26, 27, and 28 at all the blocks the counting and declaration of final results will be done. The Electoral Code of Conduct which has been come to effect from 18 January will be in force till February 28. This time in the state total number of 2, 79, 35, 525 voters will elect 91, 913 Ward members, 6, 794 Panchayat Samiti members, and 853 Zilla Parishad members.

As there is an upsurge of the third wave of the pandemic, the opposition parties were demanding a postponement of the panchayat poll for three months, which did not transpire. It indicates that the government is fully prepared and committed to conducting the election. Though the opposition parties especially the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) looks morally weak about the matter of suspension of elections due to the pandemic; because the ruling party at the centre did not show any concern for the rise of a pandemic situation when it comes to cancelling assembly elections in five states. So this demand becomes illegitimate here. The way the covid variants are spreading, by the time of the panchayat election it would have touched its peak. It is a matter of concern how the voters can go to the polling booths and cast their votes safely. As this election is going to be held on the grassroots level, it is more important whether the people will cast their votes by observing all the covid protocols properly. The government, as well as the people, should be careful that this grassroots election doesn’t turn out to be a super spreader.

The State Election Commission will certainly release a special guideline for this panchayat election and surely must have felt that the election can be conducted smoothly by following the covid guidelines rigorously. The decision not to allow any public meetings, rallies and road campaigns in this election is a welcoming step. The candidates are allowed to do door to door campaign only by taking a maximum of five people along with them. In our country, there is no negligence in making rules but nobody is reluctant to violate them at the same time. Still, we are hoping that the candidates will follow the covid protocols properly while campaigning for the election.

In any election, there is a strong possibility of the ruling party winning because it has the feasibility of allocating resources. This time as well the state ruling party, BJD, by contemplating the panchayat election has started distributing monetary help to different sections of people. The government has also announced many other schemes, increments of age limits in applying for government jobs the foundation stone of many million-dollar projects etc. Even the opposition has tried very hard to create a ruckus of the Mamita murder case, they seem to be not succeeded. So BJD might repeat the success of the 2017 panchayat election.

There has been slander regarding the panchayat elections that the political parties turn into voters before the polling to tempt the voters. Not only liquor or feasts but also distribute money and other kinds of gifts. It’s a pity that no voter to date has raised a voice against it. Rather they don’t hesitate to accept these bribes from different political parties. This is the ironic reality of our democracy. This is the reason why the decision taken by the political parties on a complete liquor ban before seven days of the panchayat election was welcomed but now none of the parties seems to be demanding or discussing this matter. Nore, the government is taking any action against it. As long as the people are considering their right to vote is sellable until then real democracy can’t arise. Panchayat I Taj is a strong grassroots level system that could have been a great source of development for the common mass but because of the above factors, it’s being ineffectual.