Punjab witnessed crushing of all forms of dissent at the grassroots level in the just concluded elections to the zila parishads and panchayat samitis and these were not signs of a healthy democracy, which is supposed to begin at the village level.
Expressing these views, Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) professor of political science, Dr Jagroop Singh Sekhon, observed that there were basically no issues in these polls and democratic norms took a back seat in the entire poll process. Terror in one form or the other came to the fore in the polls which left the villagers, the electorate, virtually spineless and with very little choice to decide before exercising their franchise, he added.
"Democracy flourishes where there is dissent. But here, the government decided to put pressure on the voters instead of leaving them alone to decide on their choice," opined Sekhon while talking to HT here on Thursday.
Sekhon felt that the government should leave voters alone so that they show their dissent through ballots and the government in the process gets an idea of the extent of its popularity or otherwise.
Thereafter a government can analyse its performance and accordingly make amends and improve its functioning. This approach would definitely help in an election on a larger scale, added Sekhon.
Pointing out that zila parishads and block samitis were "powerless" institutions in Punjab, he said that power was not flowing down to the grassroots level. On the contrary, power had become centralised with the MLAs and 'halqa incharges' in an assembly constituency and financial grants were sanctioned only on their orders, the GNDU don added.
Cong was disinterested
Expressing similar views, prominent farmer leader Rattan Singh Randhawa of Border Area Kisan Sangarsh Committee felt that the Congress campaign lacked the desired punch and its leadership seemed disinterested in the PRI elections. The senior leaders of the Congress could not mobilise their workers in their respective areas to take on the cadres of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), he added.
"In such a scenario, the voters were not presented with any viable alternative to the Akalis," he added.
The Akali claims that they won because of their development agenda was a bogus claim since there had been little or no development in the rural areas of Amritsar district since funds were misused, Randhawa claimed.
Randhawa agreed with Sekhon that the threat perception weighed heavily on the minds of voters. There was virtually no dissent or resistance to the Akalis in a number of villages in the border areas of the district as the fear of framing in false criminal cases weighed heavily on the minds of the voters, the farmer leader claimed.
Randhawa's union did not participate in the PRI elections as "it would have been a fruitless exercise in the absence of free and fair voting."