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A Vote For Good Governance in Panchayats

The results of the panchayat elections announced on Tuesday have thrown many surprises. Voters preferred newcomers in many places which suggests disenchantment with the outgoing incumbents. At the same time, several old-timers won, including Vinod Kamat, who won for a record eighth time in Neura, and Martha Saldanha, who won for the fifth time in Cansaulim-Arossim, Cuelim, based on their performance. The message from the voters to the politicians is that they would want their representatives to be honest and people-oriented in their conduct. In elections in the state to the local bodies or the Assembly over the last several years, people have shown preference to newer faces while continuing to elect old-timers whom they trust. This popular trend should serve as a wakeup call for the political parties. Rejection of old faces has been noted as a trend since 2012 Assembly elections. Even in election to urban local bodies and 2017 Assembly elections people preferred newcomers in several constituencies. This trend is likely to continue and there may be a time when people would prefer a newer candidate every time elections are held unless those elected do their job to the satisfaction of the voters. As local bodies serve as a stepping stone for politicians with aspirations to become MLAs, the newcomers who have been elected should seize the opportunity to serve the people earnestly. A good and unblemished performance could help them rise up the political ladder.

Most of the winners, however, owe their victory to their political godfathers, usually the local MLA or former MLA. Although elections to panchayats were not held on party lines, the two major political forces in the state – the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies and the opposition Congress party – were quick to claim victory of candidates ‘sponsored’ by them. These claims and counter-claims make a mockery of the grassroot democracy. Rather than claiming the victorious candidates to be theirs, the parties could have identified them well before the elections and canvassed for them. Nothing in law could have prevented them from throwing their weight behind the candidates that were associated with them; such open backing would have helped every political party to judge whether support for them has shrunk or grown in the panchayat elections. However, it was only after the results were declared that the parties chose to claim a majority of elected panchas as their own.

Rather than making claims and counter claims about winning most of the panchayat seats, the political parties should ensure that the newly elected members get the opportunities to work for development in their respective areas. As the grassroots level self-governing bodies are supposed to work without party affiliations, the government’s major concern should be to see that the newly elected bodies perform in a better and transparent environment without interference of the government. For after all, no matter which political parties the panchas are associated with, the ultimate test lies in better delivery of services and faster development in the panchayat areas. To facilitate quality delivery by the panchayats the government should immediately amend the Goa Panchayati Raj Act for giving people transparent and timely governance at the panchayat level. Though elections were apolitical, there were reports that members of ruling parties indirectly influenced voters in some areas on the ground that if they elected those owing allegiance to the ruling camp in the state they could expect better attention to development and welfare issues in their panchayat areas. Does this mean that the areas where opposition candidates win would be denied attention and funds for development?

The government should positively consider the demands of the panchayats for devolution of more powers and funds. However, while accepting their demands it should also make them accountable for omissions and commissions on their part. As the game of musical chair hampers planning and development in most of the panchayats, the government should guarantee that the sarpanchas have a fixed tenure. To prevent the games of musical chairs in panchayats the government, through amendment to the Panchayati Raj Act, should provide that no-confidence motion against a sarpanch could be moved only in cases of gross abuse or misuse of powers or negligence by them. That would leave no scope for rotating the chairs through ‘mutual’ agreement with their political masters. The mandate of the panchayats should be service to the people and development of the areas and not to rotate the chairs to please everyone. The ‘political patrons’ of the panchas should refrain from acting like ring masters.

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