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Stakes In ZP Poll

Zilla panchayat elections are going to be first test for crossover MLAs

BOTH the BJP and the Congress have a major stake in the upcoming elections to zilla panchayats in Goa. Although zilla panchayats in Goa, sandwiched between the state legislature and the gram panchayats,  have been struggling for relevance, the political parties have always found them relevant at least for proving their popularity or disproving the opposition’s unpopularity. There are many that question the need for zilla panchayats in a small state of Goa. The village panchayats are enough in number to take care of the needs of the local population. The political parties, which make zilla panchayat elections a fight to prove their influence, have never been willing to give more powers and finances to zilla panchayats. The upcoming elections to the 50 seats of the North Goa and South Goa zilla panchayats are going to be exciting local contests as the BJP has to prove that it enjoys popular support even though it did not win a majority in the last Assembly elections and formed a government by breaking the
Congress party.

In a second strike some months ago the BJP took away ten of the Congress MLAs, reducing the Congress strength to five in the Assembly. The BJP’s optimism will be based on how much influence the MLAs who crossed over from the Congress and other parties are going to have on the voters in the ZP constituencies that would be parts of their Assembly constituencies. The BJP’s optimism would also be based on the party’s positive assessment of the performance of the state government. Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi might not be a factor in the ZP elections, the BJP would definitely try to capitalize his brand as much as possible. However, there are adverse factors too that the party is going to face. It will be the first test for the MLAs who crossed over from the Congress and other parties. It would be a kind of rehearsal for them before the Assembly elections in 2022. If they are able to prove that their popularity has not been affected by their switchover, the BJP will project it as evidence of the rot in the Congress and other parties which are driving their local leaders out of the parties. If some are able to prove it and others are not able to, that will not give the BJP much space to claim that the Congress and other parties are doomed. Another adverse factor could be the effect of the poor state of the Goan economy owing to the general slowdown, combined with the state government’s financial problems. A third adverse factor could be the opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Population Register (NPR) and the not-yet-proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC). Support and opposition to BJP candidates in ZP elections could be guided at least partly by the passions generated by them.

That the BJP has much higher stake in the ZP elections than the Congress is borne out by the non-declaration yet of how many of the 50 seats would be reserved for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and women. Normally, reserved seats are announced well before the nominations have to be filed, so that all parties have sufficient time to select their candidates for the reserved seats. But the file on reservation of seats has been moving round highly guarded routes in the government departments. On Wednesday Panchayat Minister Mauvin Godinho claimed that the file had been sent to the State Election Commission (SEC), a claim that sounded strange, because the reservation of seats was not the SEC’s job but the panchayat department’s. Section 118 of the Goa Panchayat Raj Act deals with reservation of seats and it lays down clearly that it is the government that issues a notification to reserve such number of seats in any panchayat as may be considered necessary, taking into account the population of the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and the other backward classes in the panchayat area. One third of the total number of seats (including the number of seats reserved for women belonging to scheduled castes or scheduled tribes) are to be reserved for women. For a fair election, the panchayat department must notify the ZP reserved seats without any delay.

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