Power to the highest bidder

Power to the highest bidder

Representative image. Credit: iStockPhoto

The State Election Commission (SEC) has taken a bold step in countermanding elections to 13 constituencies in Sindigeri gram panchayat of Ballari district where seats were auctioned to the highest bidders in an attempt to scuttle the poll process. The first phase of elections to gram panchayats in Karnataka were held on December 22, while the second phase is scheduled for December 27. While the pernicious practice of auctioning seats is not new, it has become rampant this time around. The first such case came to light in Kalaburagi after a video went viral on social media, following which an FIR was registered against the auctioneers.

Then on, many such instances were reported. In Sindigeri, the seats were auctioned at a temple in Byluru village, with the candidates together agreeing to pay Rs 51 lakh in the name of the deity in return for being elected unopposed. Once the seat is auctioned, no other candidate is allowed to contest. An unusually high number of over 4,300 candidates were elected unopposed in the first phase.

The Constitution provides for universal suffrage, which entitles every citizen who has attained the age of 18 the right to exercise his or her franchise irrespective of caste, colour, creed, sex, religion or social status, and thus ensure representation for themselves. Auctioning of seats to skirt elections amounts to a denial of this right. Both the Representation of People Act and the Karnataka Panchayat Raj Act provide for disqualification of elected members who have indulged in corrupt practices.

The SEC should go into each case where candidates have been elected unopposed and initiate steps to disqualify them if any anomaly is found. The Panchayat Raj system was introduced in the country to promote local self-governance. It is unfortunate that democracy is being throttled through unconstitutional means right at the grassroots level.

Illegal auctions ensure that the wealthy win the election without even a contest while the poor and marginalised sections, whose hands the Panchayat Raj system aims to strengthen, continue to remain on the sidelines, with no say in the affairs of their village. Panchayat seats are in great demand as they enhance the prestige of the candidates locally, besides being stepping-stones to higher electoral offices. How the winning candidate recovers the amount invested in the auction is anybody’s guess. The government should come down on this practice with a heavy hand. Unless local bodies are freed from the stranglehold of the rich and the entitled class, the dream of true ‘Gram Swaraj’ can never be realised.