Taking manipulations at Civic Polls lying down

By Cleofato A Coutinho
28 September 2015 12:52 IST

In a few weeks from now elections shall be held for the municipalities in the State of Goa. Every time elections to the panchayats or Zilla Panchayats municipalities are round the corner, there is complete manipulation of elections through the delimitation of wards and reserving wards for women and OBC categories. Whether it was the last government or the present government, there is no change. Every time the government seeks to control the local bodies through manipulative tactics. In fact during the last Zilla panchayat elections, thinking that the euphoria around the 2012 Assembly elections and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections was still around, the government by an ordinance changed the system of holding elections on party lines, only to find the Euphoria fading away.

Realizing that the euphoria around the Parivartan is petering out, the government has now done away with holding the municipal elections on party lines. While delimitating constituencies, the basic requirement of contiguity, natural barriers and average population are always the major considerations. But the delimitation in Margao, Vasco and Mapusa are on not on those basis but keeping in mind the back door entry for the near and dear ones of the ministers and those close to the corridors of power. There is also a manipulation in reserving wards for women and OBC to such an extent that for decades certain wards are never reserved while some are reserved every time. The reservation policy is used to knock out political opponents or to favour political supporters.   

Even the increase in the number of councilors was not justifiable taking into account the size of our wards. In fact the number ought to have been reduced to make municipalities more lean and effective. All that was required was a readjustment among the existing wards.   With the government failing to usher in employment avenues, the government is only hoping to provide avenues to the party cadre as municipal councilors on the fond hope and belief that it shall cash on ‘the slumber state of the opposition’.  

The Government has by an ordinance increased the reservations for Other Backward Classes, 19.5% increased to 27%. The entire basis to increase the seats from 19.5% to 27% is without any data and/or any survey conducted municipality-wise on the OBC data for each municipality where the OBC section matters the most. To my mind the attempt is only to take control of the Margao Municipality. The Margao Municipality already has 8 councilors from the OBC category which is over-representation of the OBC population in Margao.

A close scrutiny of the municipalities shows that the OBC section is already represented to the extent of their population or even more.  There was neither justification nor any demand for the increase in the OBC quota in the municipalities. The Goan OBC category is dominated by the politically powerful Bhandari community. There can be no two opinions that a section of Bhandari community is socially backward but by sheer numerical strength they have displayed strong political muscle. Margao had an OBC Municipal President decades back, in the eighties. The state governments have always been dominated by that community. From the days of Dayanand Bandodkar, there was always Bhandari representation. Currently there is over-representation in the state Assembly. Ravi Naik went on to become the chief minister. The union government has a minister from that community. At the political level the community showed its strength by sheer numbers.

Even when it comes to reservation of jobs the constitutional mandate prescribes a limitation of ‘not adequately represented in the services’. When a reservation policy is made or the quota increased, there must be such a limitation. Numerically dominant communities cannot be permitted to extract an undeserved pound of flesh by sheer force of their numbers like the Marathas in Maharashtra.  Such reservations make the   movements policy unjust and inequitable.

The problem with arbitrariness in the elections for panchayats and Nagar Palikas is that there is no law which deals with the issue of delimitation and reservations of seats resulting in imaginary criteria adopted by the government in these areas.  The courts also do not come to the rescue of citizens at election time. That has permitted this government to manipulate the elections in a manner never heard of in the history of elections. How can one justify increase of OBC quota from 19.5% to 27% after the elections have been actually announced? How can one justify that the reservation of wards has not been announced even on the eve of the announcement of elections? There is something terribly wrong with the system of conduct of elections.  The Directorate of Municipal Administration and the Directorate of Panchayats have let down the citizens every time.

 This time the government has succeeded in distorting the municipal elections without any protest. In our small state, where the level of accountability and governance is at rock bottom, even the existing mechanism seems to have failed us. The State Election Commission has abdicated its duty and become a silent spectator to the manipulative tactics of the government. It may not be politically correct for the opposition to question the rise in OBC quota, but it could have at least questioned the manner and the timing of announcing the increase.   The opposition has not questioned the delimitation process even though it works to their detriment. The opposition has almost forgotten its role. We don’t see them on the roads holding placards on matters dear to the cause of the state.  Now, even assault on elections is taken lying down!


Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Cleofato A Coutinho

Cleofato Almeida Coutinho is a senior lawyer and one of the constitutional expert in Goa. A member of Law Commission of Goa, he also teaches at Kare College of Law in Madgao.

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