Within a week after announcing the local body polls for the village panchayats in Tamil Nadu, the practice of auctioning the post of president of village panchayats is once again back in the state, killing the very spirit of grassroots level democracy.
Until Saturday (December 14), at least 10 incidents of auctioning the panchayat president posts in the villages including Edamelayur Panchayat in Tiruvarur district, Panaikulam Panchayat in Dharmapuri district, were reported.
According to the reports, the post was auctioned for a minimum of ₹15 lakhs to a maximum of ₹50 lakhs depending upon the village size.
However, all the political parties in the state including the two Dravidian majors, ruling AIADMK and opposition DMK party maintain a studied silence on it.
Activists involved with the local governance allege that the political parties are being silent on the matters since they too are involved in it.
“Though the village panchayat system does not officially work on party lines, their silence shows that they are indirectly involved in it,” says S Nandhakumar, general secretary of Thannaatchi, an organisation working towards local governance.
But for this, Nandhakumar holds the State Election Commission and the political parties responsible for failing to create awareness about the local governance.
“It is not the mistake of the people. People are unaware of the importance of the local body and the onus lies on the State Election Commission and the political parties in the State to make them aware,” Nandhakumar says.
However, Director of Observer’s Research Foundation, Chennai, N Sathiya Moorthy says the practice is prevalent since the early 1990s.
“And it was not limited to the local body polls, the AIADMK party extended the practice even for the assembly and Lok Sabha election,” he added.
He further says that no political party would oppose it as it cannot afford to loose the local caste votes in the elections. Sathiya Moorthy also says that the process has been widely justified by saying that the post is given only to the highest bidder and no malpractice is involved in it.
Former IAS officer and convener for Forum for Electoral Integrity, MG Devasahayam said the State Government has rendered the grass root level democracy totally irrelevant.
“In assembly and Lok Sabha elections, they would pay money to get ticket and again they bribe the voters to get the vote. In village panchayat, as it is party less, what they have been doing secretly in the assembly and Lok Sabha elections, they are doing in openly in the village panchayat election,” he says.
When asked to two Dravidian majors about the reports, DMK spokesperson Tamilan Prasanna said that their party was always vocal in upholding the values of democracy. “We have been demanding for a free and fair election, ever since the State Election Commission announced the local body polls. We would continue to fight for it and we have even filed complaint with the State Election Commissioner,” he said.
However, AIADMK’s spokesperson Babu Murugavel claimed that it is happening not only when the AIADMK is in power, but also when DMK was in power. “But, we respect the democratic process. State Election Commission and police take appropriate legal action,” he said.
State Election Commissioner R Palaniswamy said that they are taking stringent actions after getting reports from the concerned district collectors. They also along with the flying squads conduct frequent checks in the villages where there are possibilities for such auctions.
“So far, two cases have been registered in Ramanathapuram and Virudhunagar,” he said.