Mandya Panchayat elections fought in the mosaic of caste, party, local dynamics
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Mandya Panchayat elections fought in the mosaic of caste, party, local dynamics

December 13, 2020
  • Certain Panchayat seats ‘auctioned’ for a price
  • Arali Katte, hotels become centres for parleys
  • After LS polls, Congress and JD(S) rivals again
  • Village elders intervene in fight between aspirants

Mandya: Election to the local Government on the basis of symbols of political parties is not held as political parties adversely affect the social cohesion that is required for development. 

But of late, the Gram Panchayat (GP) polls are leading to divisions within the community on party lines, with hatred, criminalisation and segregation emerging between castes and classes — hampering local governance and development. 

Mandya is the best example for a divided society where caste-based politics rule the roost at every level, be it Lok Sabha (LS) or Panchayat elections. 

On a positive side, elections are treated as a festival in Mandya — a Vokkaliga heartland — but the inner divisions are quite evident in every election. Remember it is the same set of people who come together when it comes to the issue of Cauvery waters. 

The core agrarian district —fondly called the ‘Sugar Bowl’ in Old Mysore region — is not so sweet during election season as they are fought bitterly irrespective of their importance.

As mentioned earlier, though GP elections are not fought on party symbols, they are indicators of grassroots level reach of political parties — it is a region where Congress and JD(S) have been the only two players but now the BJP has made inroads, eating into their vote share.

Auctions of GP seats

GP elections are held in two phases in Mandya and filing of nominations for the first phase has already ended. In many villages, elders are grouping together and ‘auction’ the GP memberships for lakhs of rupees and the memberships are open for purchase by any political party. Some village elders are preventing others from contesting by means of intimidation. 

Recently at Bidirakere village of Lalanakere GP, coming under Nagamangala taluk, the Panchayat memberships were ‘auctioned’ for lakhs of rupees. A Police case has been booked against 42 persons by Bandi Gavinele Police for calling a meeting to ‘auction’ the posts. After the incident, officers visited the village and warned the villagers not to indulge in such practices. 

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Even a village in Koppa GP was ready to ‘auction’ a seat for Rs. 5 lakh and at Keregodu village, the seat was for sale for any party that paid Rs. 25 lakh. These ‘auction’ processes were abandoned after the Election Officers and Police got a whiff of it. 

These days in Mandya villages, election related conversations are concentrated at the traditional Arali Katte, barber shops, hotels, street corners and tea stalls. Typically, the village elders call a meeting at the Arali Katte and candidates are selected based on the feedback by villagers. Here too fights happen as there is no common opinion or a consensual candidate. Caste, political party (though polls are conducted apolitically), spending power and influence over the village are chief considerations to select a candidate. 

Building a base

Even political parties are        playing a major role in the elections as they too are suggesting candidates. Information is aired to the village elders, party workers and booth-level party cadres to select a particular candidate who will ‘contribute’ to the party fortunes in bigger elections. In a way, parties are building their base in villages that will be of help in Assembly and LS polls.

At the same time, there are several aspirants vying for GP seats and it is becoming a headache for parties that are busy in quelling dissidence. In many villages there is a deadlock within the party boundaries where two or three candidates owing allegiance to one party are competing with each other for a single seat. In some villages, the elders are intervening to announce consensus candidates after discussion with warring aspirants. 

Amidst this, there are talks of unanimous elections if the candidate is ready to hand over the money — that he intends to spend on elections — for the development of village roads and temples.

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Congress, JD(S) rivals again

While BJP has made inroads in many villages, the primary fight is between Congress and the JD(S). The parties — coalition partners in the previous H.D. Kumaraswamy Government — that fought together in Mandya Lok Sabha polls against independent candidate Sumalatha Ambarish are once again bitter rivals in the GP polls. 

The BJP is contesting in all the 3,797 seats and has declared open rivalry with Congress and JD(S). As the BJP supported Sumalatha in Lok Sabha elections against Nikhil Kumaraswamy (H.D. Kumaraswamy’s son), that led to Nikhil biting the dust, the JD(S) and Congress are nervous about the GP election outcome.

The victory of BJP’s K.C. Narayanagowda from K.R. Pet Assembly seat — a traditional JD(S) bastion — is also a contributor for the nervousness of Congress and JD(S). Buoyed by the K.R. Pet victory, the BJP is conducting Gram Swarajya conventions to woo voters.

Aspirants bowing before astrologers

Panchayat seat aspirants are making a beeline to astrologer offices seeking a suitable election symbol. The Election Commission has released a set of symbols that can be chosen by the candidates and they have to limit themselves to such symbols to ensure that candidates will not choose frivolous, controversial and communally sensitive symbols.

Independent candidate Sumalatha Ambarish had used a trumpet as her Lok Sabha election symbol. As she romped home to victory, there is a huge demand for trumpet symbol. At the same time, Congress and JD(S)-backed candidates do not prefer trumpet because of obvious reasons — Cong-JD(S) candidate Nikhil Kumaraswamy was trounced with this symbol. 

Woman banished from village

In a shocking incident, a woman who filed nomination papers without obtaining consent from village elders was banished from a village. The incident occurred at Nelamakanahalli village where the GP seat is reserved for a General category woman. The village elders were upset as the woman did not take their permission to contest in the elections.

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