Saturday, November 26, 2005

Panchayat Elections - UP

The Panchayat elections have just concluded in Uttar Pradesh (UP). The final result was declared on 28th August. This was the third Panchyat election held on the basis of the constitutional amendments made during the regime of Rajiv Gandhi.

The entire state had been through a lot of excitement ever since the dates were declared during the last week of July. The excitement can be judged by the participation of the voters: 80 to 85 percent of votes were casted in the election. Another interesting feature of the election was the lavish show of money. The extent of money spent by candidates to lure voters was unprecedented. Anything between Rs. 2 to 10 lakhs were spent by each candidate, depending on the size and importance of the Panchayat. The money was not spent in the campaign material as it usually is in the Assembly or Parliament elections. Instead, cash, food and alcohol were distributed directly among the voters. Commenting on such extravagance, one voter in Saharanpur said, “it is good that the elections were held in this period, because it was a lull month and no work was available in the villages. Much of our needs were taken care of by the election and the hardship that we would have had to face due to the non-availability of work was lessened.”

Dalits, particularly women, had participated in a very big way in the recent elections. They not only contested from the reserved constituencies, but also fought for general seats. Even in the reserved constituencies, they used their political acumen to defeat those Dalit candidates who were put up by the upper castes. Dalits played the most decisive and balancing role and upset many calculations and ambitions.

Because of their independent role, often defying the diktat of upper castes, Dalits became the target of caste fury as soon as the results were declared. A reign of terror was let loose throughout the state. Dalits were not only threatened or beaten up, their houses were burnt and they were chased out of their villages. Everyday newspapers have been reporting such cases, but many more have remained unreported. We visited a few areas and found that the extent of violence and subjugation was despicable. What is more shocking is the local administration by and large has remained a silent spectator. The situation is volatile and turning worse day by day.

To stop this mindless violence, we appeal to all of you to write to the state government expressing our concerns and urge them to take concrete steps to stop this injustice and ensure protection of Dalits.

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