People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
PANCHAYAT POLLS IN BIHAR
Left Has Got Immense Scope To Fan Out
Arun Kumar Mishra
WITH the last round of repoll on May 17, the marathon called panchayat elections has come to an end in Bihar. The three-tier panchayat elections in Bihar took place after a gap of 23 years, thanks to the 73rd constitution amendment that made holding of the panchayat elections mandatory for the states.
To date, Bihar was the only state which did not hold its panchayat elections due to the vested interest represented by various bourgeois- landlord parties. These interests were hell bent on maintaining the status-quo as for them it was necessary to continue their loot of the state and central funds in connivance with the corrupt bureaucrats. The nexus of the politicians, bureaucrats, contractors and anti-socials was the main beneficiary of the situation prevailing in the state in the absence of grass roots democracy. Thousands of crores of rupees could not be utilised due to non-implementation of the panchayati raj legislation. Various bourgeois-landlord parties, particularly the BJP-Samata combine and the ruling RJD, raised many non-issues to thwart the panchayat elections in Bihar.
On the other hand, it was the Left parties, particularly the CPI(M), which raised the voice demanding the holding of these elections and launched a statewide agitation for their immediate commencement. Finally, it was the High Courts intervention and the peoples demand that forced the state government to announce the panchayat elections. The decision to hold panchayat elections and the announcement of dates by the State Election Commission created great enthusiasm among the rural masses who had been denied their right to elect their local representatives for the last two decades.
In the last two decades, the political scenario in Bihar has changed beyond recognition. Caste-based organisations have proliferated on a big scale and they are vying with each other to have a fair share in the power structure of the state. The unanimity of opinion among the bourgeois-landlord parties about holding panchayat elections on non-party basis can be attributed to the fact that they were not in a position to choose their candidates as nobody was ready to accept the parties dictates. Only the Left parties were in favour of holding these elections on party basis. But in no way did they try to prevent these elections from taking place.
Now that the panchayat elections have already taken place, two distinct trends have come to the fore. One of these trends is that the people in general have overwhelmingly responded in favour of restoration of grass-roots democracy. Wherever they got an opportunity to cast their vote without fear and intimidation, they elected those who were in constant touch with them and shared their joys and sorrows. Communist parties --- the CPI(M), CPI and CPI(ML) --- got the support of the rural poor in the areas where they are in constant touch with them and have a history of mobilising the rural poor against feudal oppression, on the issues of land and minimum wages and other developmental issues that affect them.
But the second trend is very disturbing and challenging for the Left and democratic forces who want to see that the grass-roots democracy works in favour of the rural poor and that the funds at the disposal of different elected bodies are properly utilised.
Taking advantage of various loopholes in the present panchayati raj legislation, the anti-social elements, history-sheeters and convicted criminals were present everywhere in the election fray and were determined to grab the different elected bodies. Even if a known criminal of a particular area was not able to field himself, he fielded his wife instead and ensured her victory. So a large number of history-sheeters, criminals and mafioso will now be the honourable members of district, block and village level elected bodies. Many of them will also be able to control these elected bodies. For they know that these elected bodies have substantial funds at their disposal and that they will have the final say in the developmental works in rural areas. The reported large-scale violence in which at least 200 people died and hundreds were injured, speaks volumes about the criminalisation of politics in Bihar at the hands of the thriving nexus of corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, contractors and criminals. Many reports have poured in from different parts of Bihar that the actually victorious candidates were denied the necessary certificates by returning officers in connivance with anti-social elements. These incidents have been widely reported in the local and national press.
Yet the press has missed the positive side of this whole exercise. The panchayat elections in Bihar have given a new hope to the vast multitude of rural masses who had to run from pillar to post to get even simple works done in their areas. Political brokers of various bourgeois-landlord parties used to dupe them by making false promises of getting their works done through their political bosses sitting in Patna, and thereby used to make money. Now with the elected panchayat bodies in place, the rural people of Bihar can keep a watchful eye on their elected representatives and can make or mar their political fortunes if they dont deliver the goods.
The elections have had a somewhat liberating effect on the otherwise docile womenfolk of Bihar who have came out in a big way and have been able to carve out a special place for themselves. In the far-flung areas of Bihar, women candidates spiritedly campaigned for votes and many of them have got victorious.
The panchayat elections in Bihar have presented a big opportunity to the Left and democratic forces to fan out to the rural areas and mobilise the rural poor to see that these elected bodies work democratically and efficiently, and remain corruption-free. These panchayat elections have also made a dent in the caste mobilisation drives. Many lower castes --- OBCs, dalits and adivasis --- have realised their numerical strength, have tested power and are preparing themselves to wrest power at local level.
While reviewing the outcome of these panchayat elections, however, the CPI(M)s state secretariat noted with concern that caste mobilisation remained the dominated feature in the just concluded elections; the only exception were seen in the areas where the Left parties have been working for long.
The partys state secretariat has now made the demand elections to the urban bodies, student unions and senates, etc, should be immediately held.