Towards Panchayat Polls
After a gap of 32 years, Panchayat elections in Jharkhand – the first since its inception as separate state -- are just round the corner. Over the last 10 years, time and again there were attempts to hold the elections, but social tensions engineered by different ruling parties and intervention by the judiciary came in the way. Basically the bone of contention had been the Panchayat Extension Scheduled Area Act (PESA) under the 5th schedule as amended in 1996 – an Act that seeks to ensure a decisive role of the tribal people in panchayat elections in tribal dominated districts and pockets. There had been consistent attempts of the ruling parties to mobilize non- tribal Jharkhandi people or “sadan” against PESA to create a division in Jharkhand society along caste and community lines. But after a protracted legal battle coupled with popular pressure from below, finally the Supreme Court ordered that panchayat polls in Jharkhand are to be held on the basis of PESA. Moreover, the union government also warned the Jharkhand government that in the absence of elected three-tier Panchayati Raj institutions it would be unable to provide rural developmental fund as per guidelines of the Supreme Court. The elections would now be held in five phases between 27 November and 24 December 2010.
Like most of the states in Hindi belt, the basic flaw in the Panchayati Raj law of Jharkhand is that the Mukhia (chief of Panchayat) is elected directly while the elections are conducted without any party banner. However, 50% reservation for women and PESA would provide a new ground for assertion of women and the tribal masses. Under PESA, 12 out of 24 districts and a few blocks in another three districts have been identified as scheduled areas which would enjoy a minimum of 60% reservation for tribals in overall seats and full reservation in posts like Mukhia, President in Panchayat samiti and Chairman in zila Parishad.
Panchayat election after 32 yrs along with reservation for weaker sections of society has created an explosion of political ambition at the grass roots, particularly at the level of Mukhia posts. On the other hand, despite the ‘apolitical’ format all political forces are actively intervening in the crucial political battle.
The CPI (ML) as a developing political trend has also geared up for joining the battle. Our basic slogans are:
Resist rural loot in the name of development! Isolate the development mafia and demolish the network of intermediaries! Elect the fighting forces for pro-people development and assertion of rural poor!
Turn Panchayati Raj into a platform of peoples’ struggle against vested interests – particularly the nexus of feudal forces- mafia-corrupt officials!
With this approach we shall participate in almost all areas of work (mainly 17 out of 24 districts). Most intensive participation would be in Giridih district, Bhawnathpur assembly segment of Garwah district, Mandu assembly segment of Ramgarh–Hazaribagh district, some pockets of districts Like Palamu, Latehar, Dhanbad, Dumka, Deoghar and Gumla. In total we will be participating in nearly 100 Zila parishad seats, 600 Panchayats (for Mukhia and Panchayat Samiti seats) and 3500 ward seats.
For the next rounds of election to elect Panchayat Samiti Presidents and Zila Parishad Chairpersons, our policy will be active participation only where we have viable independent strength and abstention in other areas.
The Panchayat polls are being held in a situation when big scams have become the ‘ornaments’ of political bosses. The broad masses are disgusted and angry. This fury of the people may burst out any time, particularly in the face of the growing state terror in the garb of “operation green hunt”. The ruling elite in Jharkhand have finally arrived at a consensus to hold Panchayat elections to thwart the potential of a popular rebellion. After all, the Panchayati Raj would provide an effective tool to the ruling classes to assimilate a large number of vocal and assertive representatives from different layers of rural society. So the real challenge lies in mobilizing the rural people to turn the table on the ruling classes and transform the Panchayati Raj institutions into vibrant platforms of peoples’ struggle.