CHANDIGARH: The Centre’s decision to hold panchayat elections in Punjab is being considered as a shrewd move to assess the mood of the people at grass root level.

The panchayat electorate covers more than seven percent of the state’s adult population which will elect about 80 panchas and 11,000 sarpanchas.

Thus, will be a mini general election.

The five year term of the panchayats will end on October 1 this year. The elections were held last on September 18 under the Congress (I) Government led by Mr. Darbara Singh. Election to the block level panchayat samitis and district level zilla parishads could not be held as the ministry was sacked on October 6 that year following a bus massacre by terrorists.

The Congress (I) which has been opposing Assembly elections in the state has reportedly agreed to the panchayat elections because the Panchayat Act bars election on party lines. The Prime Minister, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi who announced elections to panchayats at a public meeting at Goindwal in Amritsar district on Wednesday is reported to have taken the PPCC (I) into confidence before arriving at the decision.

No party can officially claim victory in the panchayat poll as the candidates do not contest on party symbols. However, the candidates, though independent, have political affiliations and a broad assessment of the mood of the electorate can be made. The Congress (I) is likely to make a bid for capturing as many panchayats as possible on its own strength and also expecting to bag many more if the centrally controlled state administration obliges it.

The Congress (I) obviously pins its hope on the fact that the state administration influences panchayat elections and later the election of sarpanchas, block samiti chairmen and zilla parishad chairmen, everywhere.

According to official sources, the panchayat elections at zilla parishad level can be completed in six months.

The electoral rolls revised for Assembly constituencies will be valid for panchayat Raj System which is being debated at the Centre and may confer more powers on sarpanchas and chairmen of block samiti and zilla parishad.

The panchayat elections will also indicate the state of the Akali politics. The Akalis are currently divided in three factions with deep seated animosity against one another. The Congress (I) stands no chance of victory if they join hands against it and the outcome may be quite contrary if they continue fighting.

The Punjab administration has postponed local body’s elections indefinitely in the state which can be contested on party tickets apparently because the Congress (l) is not in a position to win. The mood of the urban voters is hostile to the party because of the administration’s failure to curb violence. The local bodies elections was part of the action plan on Punjab.

Article extracted from this publication >> October 7, 1988