New Delhi: In a move aimed at de-politicizing the electoral process, the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government has amended election laws for urban local bodies to bar candidates with any overt political connections.
The changes are significant since the state, which elects 80 members of Parliament in every general election, is a key electoral battleground and one where the Congress is seeking to revive its fortunes.
The country’s most populous state, governed by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by chief minister Mayawati, is due for polls to urban local bodies next year. The changes are effective 11 May, with a grace period of a month, ending on 10 June, to file objections.
Analysts and critics of the BSP fear that the government’s actions will lead to the covert involvement of political parties, making funding of candidates even less transparent and monitoring of the electoral process that much more difficult.
The governance structure of India is at three levels—Central, state and local government. The Constitution empowers the state governments to determine electoral rules for the third tier—local governments such as corporations, municipalities and panchayats. Some of these local bodies, especially in cities, have large budgets—the 2008-09 budget for Lucknow Municipal Corporation was Rs969 crore.
The changes apply only to urban local bodies. UP has 12 corporations, 191 nagar parishads (town municipalities) and 414 nagar panchayats (rural municipalities) in 631 cities across 70 districts. In 2006, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept the elections to corporations winning eight mayoral posts, while the Congress won three, with the main opposition Samajwadi Party (SP) getting one.
This looks set to change with the new law that states: “Elections for the post of members, chairpersons of the nagar palika (municipal corporations) will not be on the basis of political parties.”
While political analysts favour the idea of de-politicizing local body elections, they have reservations. “This will make horse trading easier and above the law,” said N. Bhaskar Rao, psephologist and chairman of Centre for Media Studies (CMS).
Monitoring the electoral process may also become tougher if, as Rao fears, political parties support candidates unofficially. CMS had estimated that spending by political parties in the 15th general election totalled Rs10,000 crore, double that spent in 2004. It further estimated that of this, around a quarter, or Rs2,500 crore, was below-the-line spending by candidates.
The opposition parties were furious at the move, alleging a “larger political game” ahead of the key battle for the state assembly in 2012, expected to be a four-way contest involving the BSP, the Congress, the BJP and the SP.
“The BSP wants to control the urban local bodies whereas it does not have much of a base to win the elections. The party is planning to bring the winners into their fold by paying them huge money,” said Akhilesh Pratap Singh, Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee spokesperson.
According to Singh, the new law will make the anti-defection law redundant. “It would be easier for the BSP to buy over the elected representatives and control the corporations, municipalities and nagar panchayats (in urban areas), which have huge budgets and fund allocations,” he added.
CMS’ Rao points out: “It will make cross voting easier and the BSP could be aiming at nullifying the momentum other parties such as Congress have in the urban areas.”
Lalji Tandon, the BJP MP from Lucknow echoed this. “Our Constitution provides the status of local governments to local bodies and by separating that level of governance from political parties, the UP government is not only violating the Constitution, but is reducing it to a joke,” he said. “By bringing all the winners of the civic polls into the BSP using money power, Mayawati wants to create an impression of the BSP’s dominance ahead of the 2012 assembly elections.”
When contacted, BSP MP Ambeth Rajan decline to comment on the notification.
Badri Narayan, a UP-based political analyst, said that although the de-politicization of civic body elections is not necessarily a bad move, this particular notification confining it only to urban bodies smacks of political motive.