Distortion of democracy: Money, muscle power in MP’s urban, panchayat polls

The municipal and three-tier panchayat elections in Madhya Pradesh finally concluded for the posts of president in Zila and Janpad respectively.

The Madhya Pradesh State Election Commission (MP-SEC) had announced the poll schedule following the direction of the Supreme Court permitting it to conduct elections with OBC reservation in urban bodies in May.

However, after the election process began, OBC reservation, which has been the main issue in the face-off between the BJP and the Congress got less prominence as both the parties fielded candidates as per their political arithmetic of seats.

But the issue that sought more attention was that even the panchayat polls were fought like assembly and general elections. From money to muscle power and from factionalism to horse-trading of councillors, mayors and zila and janpad members was done by both the national parties.

The latest instance was Friday’s incident during the zila panchayat president’s election in Bhopal when a scuffle broke out between Congress’ Rajya Sabha MP Digvijaya Singh and a couple of BJP MLAs. The Congress led by Singh was opposing the alleged ‘bogus voting’, however, the BJP MLAs managed to get entry of its members and won the president’s post in the Bhopal zila panchayat.

As the prestige of top politicians was at stake to gain maximum support and to get their favourite candidates elected in their area, they made all possible attempts to grab the zila, janpad and mayoral posts.

Horse-trading and camping of zila and janpad members began after the direct voting process ended. As the members had to vote to elect the presidents, both the parties did what they usually do either for proving their majority in the assembly, parliament or for toppling and forming the government.

Surprisingly, it happened even within the party. For instance, two days before Dabra (in Gwalior district) Janpad’s members had to elect the president, state minister Imarti Devi took at least 18 members to Delhi to Union Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia’s residence. A video went viral on social media showing Scindia interacting with these members.

State home minister Narottam Mishra and Scindia wanted to have their own favourite winning the janpad president’s post. This led to an escalation of the “old Vs new” BJP leaders within the saffron party in Madhya Pradesh. Later, Mishra reached the BJP headquarters in Bhopal and held close door discussion with state president V. D. Sharma and others.

However, it was not only the BJP’s Imarti Devi who drove members out of Bhopal or from their respective areas. Many such cases were noticed where BJP and Congress leaders took elected zila and janpad members and camped in luxury hotels.

Tourist hotspots like Goa, Pachmarhi, Khajuraho, Ujjain etc. were the favourite destinations for camping. As the panchayat (gram, janpad and zila) elections are held without party symbols, both the BJP and the Congress were in the race for gaining power in the rural areas ahead of the assembly polls due in November 2023.

Ironically, many members had to hide themselves from the leaders of political parties, claiming that “they are independent” and do not want to disclose whom they will support for the presidents posts. On the other hand, political cadres were camping at the members’ residences.

Many members complained that they were held hostage by political parties and were not allowed to meet the opposition party. For instance, a video went viral showing nearly a dozen zila panchayat members being taken in a bus in Rewa district. “I don’t know where I am going. BJP leaders are taking all of us out of Rewa and we have been told that we will return on voting day only,” a member was heard saying in the viral video.

Also, there have been several instances of post election rivalries and elected representatives were either killed or beaten up in revenge. For instance, an incident was reported from Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s home district in Sehore. An elected panchayat member was kicked, hit by sticks and dragged by a group of people on Friday.

In another incident, the husband of a newly elected Sarpanch was burnt alive in Rewa district on Thursday. There have been several such cases where elected members were beaten up, especially in the Gwalior-Chambal division.

Results:

Out of the 16 mayoral posts in Madhya Pradesh, the ruling BJP has won nine, the opposition Congress managed to win five and the AAP and Independent one each.

In the zila panchayat elections, out of a total 51, the BJP claimed to have won 41 president posts and the Congress nine. Similarly, in the total 331 posts for janpad president, the BJP claimed to have won 227 and the Congress 65, while independent candidates won 21 seats.

“In panchayat elections, the BJP emerged victorious in a one-sided manner in all three formats – Gram, Janpad and Zila. People have supported the BJP in a major way in villages, towns and cities,” said Chief Minister Chouhan on Friday.

The MP Congress leadership accused the BJP of using power and money to influence the election results. The opposition also accused the MP-SEC, bureaucrats and police of supporting the BJP out of fear.

Leading the party from the front during the elections, former MP CM and state Congress president Kamal Nath said, “These elections results have made it clare that the people of Madhya Pradesh are fed up with the BJP’s false propaganda and promises and they are ready for change at every level. After 14 months, the people are going to make a big change, for that every Congress worker should get ready from now.”

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