The Karnataka State Election Commission (SEC) on Thursday announced postponement of gram panchayat elections due to the COVUD-19 pandemic, paving the way for the ruling BJP to take control of the rural local bodies.
Between June and August, the term of some 5,800 gram panchayats will end. There are totally 6,025 gram panchayats in the state.
“The State Election Commission has examined the feasibility of conducting general elections to gram panchayats. Considering the current situation as ‘exceptional circumstance’, it has been decided to temporarily postpone the general elections to the gram panchayats,” the SEC said in a statement.
Last week, the SEC had sought the opinion of all deputy commissioners on conducting elections. “Their reports suggest that personnel in all districts are engaged in COVID-19 affairs, leading to shortage in manpower for elections. Also, there will be shortage in transportation and inconveniences in maintaining law & order,” the SEC said.
Gram panchayats are the first in the self-governance strata and gaining control over them can alter local political equations at the grassroots.
The government, through a Cabinet decision, had asked the SEC to postpone the elections. According to sources, the government is toying with the idea of nominating pro-BJP people as members of administrative committees that will take control of the gram panchayats, or name bureaucrats as administrators.
Postponement of the gram panchayat polls has enraged the Opposition Congress, which has threatened to wage both legal and political fights. “This is a violation of the Karnataka Panchayat Raj Act, 1993. The Congress will question this anti-democratic decision in the court,” Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah said, accusing the SEC of “dancing to the BJP’s tunes.”
He said it was “shameful” that the BJP government is looking to take control of the gram panchayats this way. “People are fed up with the government. They’re scared to face elections, so they’ve taken this path of nominating members to the panchayats,” Siddaramaiah said.
The former CM argued that Section 8 of the Karnataka Panchayat Raj Act did not allow administrative committees to be appointed without conducting an election. “We will tell the court of this illegality and we’re confident of getting justice.”