By Arun Pratap Singh
Dehradun, 20 Nov: Political observers generally agree that municipal polls are no major indication of what is the mood of the voters in respect of Assembly or Parliamentary elections. However, if results spring up major surprises, then there are important lessons to be learnt by all the political parties concerned as well as the governments in power. It is also generally believed that party in power has advantage over the opposition parties in local elections, but the results coming out in the current polls are indicating otherwise. In the polls, it is the independents that have emerged victorious in a large number of 1064 municipal wards in the state, where polls were held. BJP is leading the chief opposition party Congress by a good margin but still it is the independents who are winning the majority of seats throughout the state.
It is clear that the mayors and the municipal chairpersons are not going to get Corporations or boards of their choice and would have to face a struggle in getting bills of their choice passed easily. It is also the first time in the history of Uttarakhand that this situation will prevail in most urban local bodies (ULBs) of the state. Polls were conducted for a total of 84 out of 92 ULBs and, of them, 7 are Municipal Corporations (Nagar Nigams), while 39 are Municipal Councils (Nagar Palika Parishads) while the remaining 38 are Town Areas (Nagar Panchayats). The BJP still leads Congress as far as elections for the mayoral posts and posts of municipal chairpersons are concerned. It also leads Congress in the polls for chairpersons of town areas (Nagar Panchayats) but, for the first time, independents are also showing impressive results. BJP is likely to win 4 to 5 out of 7 mayoral posts and the majority of other chairperson posts but still BJP has failed to come out with satisfactory results. BJP had been traditionally performing well in ULB polls in Uttarakhand while the Congress has performed well only in certain ULBs. So it can be said that BJP had higher stakes than Congress and had everything to lose while the Congress had everything to gain. The results show that BJP has lost its monopoly on the ULBs but Congress failed to gain what was ceded by the BJP. It is the independents who gained at the cost of BJP as well as the Congress.
The results in the polls show that people were generally unhappy with the performance of BJP controlled boards but still did not trust Congress and therefore Congress failed to perform impressively even as BJP lost considerable ground in the polls. The results also show that both BJP and Congress faltered in fair distribution of tickets for the polls. There is a tendency in the top leadership of parties to prefer sycophants to deserving candidates while distributing tickets. Big leaders tend to give tickets to persons of their personal choice rather than review the situation with open eyes and then grant tickets. In several places, rebel candidates won against the official party candidates of BJP and Congress. On the other hand, a large number of past winners from BJP and Congress have also lost, which indicates that people are unhappy with the poor performance of their representatives and are willing to consider alternatives. They are willing to look beyond the BJP and Congress and also eager to teach appropriate lessons to the political leadership.
It would be pertinent to also point out certain other things that may be relevant in the context of the polls. It may be recalled that the 74th Constitutional amendment that was legislated during the Rajeev Gandhi government seeks to give lot of powers and autonomy to the urban local bodies and make them self reliant and empowered. However, the amendment is yet to be implemented in true spirit. The amendment also seeks to hand over some crucial functions to the ULBs like approval of housing plans, town and urban planning, water supply. This can make the ULBs financially more viable and get appropriate role in town planning. Presently, the ULBs in Uttarakhand only handle sanitation, provide and pay for street lights, construct some of the colony roads and collect house tax. The major source of income of ULBs in Uttarakhand is house tax collection and hoardings tax. In the absence of empowerment, people are expected to be disappointed with the poor performance and clearly this too has played its role.