Indirect mayor polls in Tamil Nadu: How AIADMK put ally BJP in a spot

Chennai Corporation
The date of the polls has not been announced yet, but is expected to be notified before December 13 as per the direction of the Supreme Court | Photo: Chennai Corporation

An ordinance promulgated by the AIADMK-led Tamil Nadu government on Wednesday night for the indirect election of corporation mayors has created a furore among the political parties in the state. The move comes in the wake of the BJP demanding their leaders to be appointed as mayors in at least two corporations in the state.

There are 15 corporations, 152 municipalities, 561 town panchayats and 12, 524 village panchayats in Tamil Nadu. However, there has been no local body elections in the state in the last three years. After the DMK and other opposition parties took the issue to the court, the AIADMK government decided to hold the elections in December.

The date of the polls has not been announced yet, but is expected to be notified before December 13 as per the direction of the Supreme Court.

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Meanwhile, the passage of the ordinance to conduct indirect polls to elect corporation mayor has come as a surprise since the government had in 2018 advocated for direct election for the mayor post. The reason cited by the government to conduct indirect elections is to ensure that the mayor will not have any hurdles in discharging his duties.

“When councillors are from one party and the mayor from another, the latter will have problems in administering the corporation. He will not get enough support from the members. If indirect polls are held, the mayor will be from the majority party and the members will have an additional responsibility of running the corporation in a better way,” said the government.

The DMK and its allies have cried foul over the decision of holding indirect elections for the mayor post. Former Chennai mayor and DMK’s Saidapet MLA M Subramanian said there are four reasons behind this decision by the AIADMK-led government.

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“Leaders of the ally parties of the AIADMK’s, like the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) and the BJP, have started claiming they would be elected as mayor in certain corporations. To put an end to such claims and speculations, the AIADMK has decided to elect the councillors first. If they conduct indirect elections to choose mayors, the party can bag the most number of mayor seats,” he said.

The second reason, he said, “Could be the AIADMK’s fears that the BJP may indulge in horse-trading like it did in the last few assembly elections in different states. To avoid such a situation, the AIADMK could have resorted to indirect elections.”

“The third reason could be the internal disputes in the AIADMK itself. We know Fisheries Minister Jayakumar’s son is willing to contest for the Chennai mayor post. But many in the party do not want him as the mayor. So to put an end to such speculations, the government is said to have decided to conduct indirect elections,” added Subramanian.

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The move could also have been aimed at stopping DMK leader Udayanidhi Stalin from bagging the mayor post, something the opposition might have planned if there was a direct election, he said.

When asked about the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi’s (VCK) demand of announcing Chennai Corporation as a reserve constituency, Subramanian said that the DMK would be the first party to celebrate if such an announcement is made. “In DMK, starting from the district-level to the top leadership, Dalits are often given important positions. So, we don’t have any contrary opinions with the VCK,” he said.

‘AIADMK did not consult BJP’

BJP’s state general secretary S Vanathi Sreenivasan told The Federal that AIADMK has not consulted with them before taking the decision of holding indirect polls for the mayor post. “There is still time for holding discussions over seat-sharing,” she said.

Meanwhile, a senior AIADMK leader said that his party had not opposed the DMK’s proposal in 2016 of holding indirect elections. “If they bring indirect elections, it will the right move and if we do the same, it is wrong?” he asked. Asked about seat-sharing he said that nothing has been decided so far.

Senthil Arumugam, general secretary, Satta Panchayat Iyakkam, an organisation working for empowering local governance, said that indirect elections will give “corrupt leaders”.

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“The ordinance was passed not only to elect the mayor indirectly, but also the chairpersons of municipalities and town panchayats. The reason cited by the government is to have a ‘political stability’. In 2018, this government had advocated direct elections and now, it brings indirect elections. And in between, they allied with the BJP during the parliamentary elections. This is the main reason why the government changed its position,” he said.

He added that through direct elections, people would have had a chance to elect a qualified leader. “But indirect elections will strip them of that choice. It will pave the way for horse-trading,” said Arumugam.

Jumping to and fro

Earlier, the state had only six corporations — in Chennai, Coimbatore, Madurai, Trichy, Salem and Tirunelveli. From 1996 till 2006, direct elections were held for the mayor position in these corporations. In 2006, the then DMK government chose indirect polls to elect the mayor. And in 2008, new corporations such as Tiruppur, Erode, Vellore and Thoothukudi were created.

When the AIADMK came to power in 2011, they conducted direct elections to choose the mayor. Again in 2014, new corporations were created in Thanjavur and Dindigul. And in 2016, then chief minister J Jayalalithaa, planned to conduct indirect mayor elections.

However, the Edappadi K Palaniswami government choose to conduct direct elections in 2018. Following that, Nagercoil, Hosur and Avadi got the status of corporations this year.