The Big Story: Grassroots democracy
On Monday, a division bench of the Calcutta High Court rejected a petition from the ruling Trinamool Congress and the West Bengal election commission to overrule an order by a single-judge bench to stay the West Bengal panchayat election. The stay has now been extended to Tuesday, with the High Court beginning hearings on the matter. The panchayat elections were originally scheduled for May 1, May 3 and May 5.
The original court order had been filed on the basis of a petition from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which accused the Trinamool Congress of using violence to intimidate Opposition candidates from filing their nominations. The BJP’s charge has been backed up by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) as well as the Congress. On April 7, 75-year old CPI(M) leader and former MP, Basudeb Acharia , was attacked by Trinamool Congress workers in Purulia district. The violence on the ground has meant that, for example, in the Birbhum Zilla Parishad, only Trinamool Congress candidates have filed nominations in 41 out of the 42 seats. This ensures a Trinamool sweep without even a single vote being cast. In one case, a journalist was stripped and threatened by Trinamool workers for reporting on the violence.
Attempts to solve the problem of uncontested seats have been stonewalled by the state administration. On April 10, the state election commission extended the deadline for filing nominations by a day – and then promptly withdrew the order, leading to accusations that it had acted under pressure from the state administration. Attempts by the high court to stay the polls have also been opposed by the ruling party.
The Trinamool Congress has tried to deflect blame by claiming that such nomination patterns have been witnessed in previous panchayat polls in West Bengal too. The culture of violence has permeated West Bengal since Congress-rule in the 1970s. Yet, the Trinamool was elected in 2011 on the promise of “paribartan” or change. For the party to continue to throttle local democracy using muscle power is unacceptable.
- With India allowing a Chinese build-up in Doklam as well as holding talks with Pakistan, Delhi’s hard power strategy in the region is being replaced with a more conciliatory one, argues Suhasini Haidar in the Hindu.
- Kathua’s inconvenient truths: Outrage over heinous crime cannot be a replacement for strengthening rule of law. Civil society must start – and sustain – a debate on the need for improving the quality of policing, writes Abhinav Kumar in the Indian Express.
- Going into the 2019 general polls, the Janata Dal (United)’s continuous slide in vote share will be a cause of concern for the Bharatiya Janata Party in Bihar, writes TS Ramakrishnan in the Hindu Business Line.
Political meddling to financial impropriety – it is all going wrong at Amul, reports M Rajshekhar.
“In tandem with the politicisation of the cooperatives, tales of financial mismanagement are increasing. Amul has four large district unions and 14 small ones. The big ones are Banaskantha, Sabarkantha, Mehsana and Kaira. These, said the former Kaira Union official, ‘account for most of Amul’s milk procurement and control as much as two-thirds of the voting power’ on the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation’s board.
Over the last five years, three of these four unions have faced charges of financial impropriety. In 2013, Mehsana’s Dudhsagar Dairy was rocked by allegations around the milk powder deal and a decision to supply fodder to Maharashtra. As with Milky Mist, the checks and balances built into the system failed to catch the problems. Instead, they surfaced after chairman Vipul Choudhury met Rahul Gandhi. After that, as The Indian Express reported, the BJP chairmen on the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation’s board united against Choudhury, eventually forcing him to step down.”