To check violence, intimidation and corruption during polls, villagers in three gram panchayats in Raipur and Dhamtari districts of Chhattisgarh elected their sarpanches and panches before the actual polls.
Now, commanding majority support, the winners are expected to be officially elected — unopposed — on the polling day. The whole process did not cost more than Rs 5,000 per village — collected through voluntary contributions made by villagers.
“This indicates a measure of public opinion as selection of sarpanch and panch was done through secret voting,” said Chandulal Dhruv, a resident of Saragaon, 60 km east of state capital Raipur in Raipur district, one of the villages that went for a United States’ primaries-style pre-poll process.
The three-tier panchayat polls start from January 28.
Panchayats of Saragaon, Bhimbouri (20 km west of Raipur, Raipur district) and Dodki (80 km east of Raipur in Dhamtari district) villages are confident that the winning candidates — to be declared officially elected after polls — will ensure development and get cooperation from various factions irrespective of political affiliations.
Villagers claim over 80 per cent registered voters took part in the process.
“The village committees and elders in choupal (meeting centre of a village) arrived at a decision to undertake the selection route,” said Likheswari Dhiwar, the successful candidate for sarpanch in Bhimbouri.
Manoj Dawangan, a voter in Saragaon, said candidates often spent lakhs of rupees to lure voters and once elected siphoned panchayat funds. “This won’t happen now.”
Besides cutting expenses, the primaries will decrease violence and disputes, villagers hope. “The contest is acute between groups at the village or panchayat levels since the issues are very local,” State Election Commissioner Shivraj Singh told HT. But declined to comment on the pre-poll elections.
“The commission can do nothing if villagers decided to go ahead (with informal elections),” said Singh’s predecessor Shushil Trivedi. “Such an approach is welcome provided no coercion is involved.”
Striking a note of caution, however, Rajpal, state coordinator for the Society for Participatory Research in Asia, an organisation that deals with issues of governance, said it was important that voices of women and weaker sections be heard.
“Such private initiatives should not end up becoming a tool for the powerful and influential sections of the gram panchayat,” he said.