As the second phase of Panchayat elections come nearer, the political parties have raised their campaigning spree to the highest levels possible. The Panchayat elections in Assam have acquired more importance because of the time of its holding. After another few months, the country will plunge into the next Parliamentary elections. And every election till then will have crucial ramifications.
While the election was a result of a court order, the parties did seem to fully acknowledge the importance of this election and the message that its results would send across. Panchayat elections often impact assembly elections and Parliamentary elections. It is these local self government elections which also give political parties an opportunity to tap the nerves of the electorate and plan accordingly.
Gone are those days, when candidates didn’t even use party symbols and votes were cast largely on the merit of the candidates. Today it is as much about the top leaders of different political parties as the candidates themselves. No wonder so much resources are being put into the campaigning and leaders are hopping from one meeting to another in helicopters.
This panchayat election in Assam has initiated some interesting developments. It has finally put the allies face to face. After Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) decided to fight elections on their own, election rallies have become platforms of heated political attack and counter attack.
The alliance has been critiqued by many as an unholy one. And AGP has been questioned time and again about their stand on issues like the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, the NRC etc. AGP was the product of the Assam Movement and often seen as a manifestation of Assamese sub-nationalism. It has been questioned and cornered for not taking a crystal clear stand on the CAB.
While AGP did claim that it will not allow the Assam Accord and its provisions to be bypassed, its continued denial to pull out from the government made many question its commitment. It seems this election decision to fight separately came as a breather for AGP and they started criticizing their ally on many issues.
Even Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal maintained a lengthy silence on the controversial bill. People did not shy away from reminding the Chief Minister of his association with AASU, AGP and his erstwhile commitment.
AASU has also come out very strongly against the government’s attitude towards the sentiments of the common people. Interestingly today in Assam we are presented with a milieu of leaders who have traversed across the political spectrum.
BJP leaders who are new entrants and have been in Congress or AGP some time back are being criticized for their lack of political stability as well as ideological position. Every party is claiming that the other parties have entered into some kind of secret understanding. While Sonowal said that AGP has secretly allied with Congress, Dr Himanta Biswa Sharma went one step ahead and saw a nexus between the Congress, AGP and the AIUDF.
The CM accused the AGP leaders of misleading ground workers and manipulating their support. While he lauded the role of BJP which allegedly always stood up for the interest of Assam, he did not fall short of words while criticizing his earlier party. He talked of the secret killings during AGP. And Congress took a dig at the CM and other BJP leaders for being ungrateful to their respective parent parties. Interestingly AGP also hit back at BJP and stated that their long term conspiracy is to do away with the regional voice.
There is a clear ploy to polarize the electorate even in this election. Controversial statements of political leaders regarding illegal immigrants and how Muslim majority districts seem to them vindicate this ploy. While every party is trying to woo the voters, which way the electorate will sway – we will know on 12th December. However, in the backdrop of this election – there are some other fundamental issues which need to be critically examined. No government is seen very keen in holding Panchayat elections. It seems there is a tendency to not only arrest decentralization at a higher level but also ensure funds do not tickle down.
Panchayat elections and elections to other local self bodies are the foundation of a strong democracy. It is at the level of panchyats that the political machinery is at the disposal of people. Not only the voters undergo a kind of political education, but even representatives are held accountable. Panchayats as envisaged by the founders of modern India was supposed to be more about individual merit. But the deeply entrenched political parties have introduced factors like big money which may override the merit of individual candidates.
This election should also remind us that allies decided to go separate ways – is it an ideological stand on the part of AGP or a mere election tactic to ensure that AGP is not rendered irrelevant and its space is taken up by other social and civil organizations.
After elections, the people should not go back to being complacent. The political parties should be held accountable on crucial issues. Political parties like AGP should not benefit from politics of convenience – to be a part of the government and at the same time take a different stand from the government.
This election should be closely observed as it will not only impact the state’s politics but also pave its future.