The Centre’s move to demonetise old currency of Rs500 and Rs1,000 and the new practice of allowing municipal council presidents to be elected directly saw almost all parties woo voters with bribes in the civic elections held in the state two weeks ago, according to political leaders and observers.
As many as 80% of voters in the state are voting in the various civic elections in the state , which started in November, and will continue till the end of March.
In the first phase of the elections for 165 municipal councils and nagar panchayats held two weeks ago, the ruling BJP won the highest number of wards and which, according to sources, will set a trend for the remaining phases. The Opposition says that the ruling party used banned currency to woo voters . According to observers, almost all parties used black money in the elections.
Leaders say that in some cases, voters were paid as high as Rs6,000 to Rs8,000 a vote. “ In Manmad in Nashik district, candidates from all the parties were with strong financial backgrounds and the ‘rate per vote’ had gone up substantially. One party was paying the civic utility bills of voters using the old notes and sent the receipts along with the voter’s slip ahead of the polls,” an observer said.
The elections are seen as a prestige issue for established political leaders as their results are directly linked to their political clouts. In some cases, the leaders had fielded their family members in the council elections. The elections are also presumed to be the grooming ground for would-be legislators and hence bear importance.
“If you take a look at the council presidents elected in the first phase, most of them are financially strong and influential in their areas. Many are directly related with the incumbent ministers, MLAs or former legislators. Some of them have a history of being involved in illegal activities. Parties were even forced to consider the financial background of the candidates while giving them the tickets in civic elections. As it was a direct elections for the presidents, parties and even local leaders put their weight around the candidates to gain command over the councils,” said a NCP leader from western Maharashtra.
According to local leaders active in the council elections, the contractors and lobbies looking at bagging the development works in the civic bodies were active in lending their financial support. “Unlike mayors in municipal corporations, the municipal council presidents get de-facto powers of sanctioning budget for the projects. Many councils in the state have their annual budget ranging between Rs40 and 90 crore. The lobbies financially supported many candidates, keeping an eye on the contracts,” the leader said.