By the way | Chandigarh has elections too. But what about democracy?
Let’s remind ourselves. Chandigarh is not a part of Punjab. Yes, there are elections due in Punjab early next year. No, you cannot vote in them if you are registered as a voter in the UT. No matter how much you discuss the Punjab elections in your drawing rooms, favourite cafes, and roadside tea shacks. But, do you know there are elections due in Chandigarh as well? They’re not as exciting, I agree.punjab Updated: Oct 23, 2016 11:16 IST
Let’s remind ourselves. Chandigarh is not a part of Punjab. Yes, there are elections due in Punjab early next year. No, you cannot vote in them if you are registered as a voter in the UT. No matter how much you discuss the Punjab elections in your drawing rooms, favourite cafes, and roadside tea shacks. But, do you know there are elections due in Chandigarh as well? They’re not as exciting, I agree.
There is no Aam Aadmi Party trying to spoil anyone’s show here. There is no Sukhbir Badal wanting to continue his reign; nor is a Captain Amarinder Singh seeking to ride into the sunset while perched on a throne like his royal predecessors.
But a new municipal corporation for the trophy town is to be chosen soon, and it is only appropriate that you give it some mindspace, if not stand in the queue to choose who’d make noise on your behalf at a meeting every month in Sector 17.
It’s not that people are not interested. After all, considering that the voter turnout in the Chandigarh MC polls had never touched the halfway mark ever before, it was a surprise to see over 60% voting the last time. It may even rise if we go by trends across the country and the newfound love for all things political. I am harping on more participation because it’s time to make a point. Here’s why.
Chandigarh, despite all its trappings of modernity, lacks basic democracy.
Technically, people elect 26 councillors, and the MP is also a member. This makes it a House of 27 representatives of the people. Or, does it?
Another nine councillors are nominated by the UT administrator. Now, if these nine were only eminent people who were chosen to guide the House with their expertise and knowledge, things would be fine. The problem here is that these nine have voting rights that often prove to be the make-or-break factor. They form 25% of the House, and many of them routinely cut the size of elected representatives and, by extension, the democratic process. As past instances prove, even if a party gets the majority in the MC elections, these nine can make the loser win the mayoral polls.
But it’s not that black and white politically. Every party has reaped the benefit of the nominated councillors’ votes at some point. Most recently, the BJP managed to win the mayor’s seat after 15 years apparently thanks to their support. The Congress has been a long-term beneficiary too in the past.
In the latest move against the voting rights, BJP councillor Satinder Singh has moved court against these voting rights. His contention is simple. The Constitution’s Article 243R says members can be nominated from amongst persons “having special knowledge or experience in municipal administration”. That sounds fair, and noble. The Article adds, however, that these persons “shall not have the right to vote in the meetings of the municipality”. Clear enough?
Here’s the hitch. The Punjab MC Act as extended to Chandigarh in 1994 makes a provision for nine such members “with voting rights”.
It is for the courts to decide which one is to be upheld, or if both provisions can somehow stay. With only a third of a law degree, I won’t venture into that territory. On the ground, these voting rights only underline the irony how the allegedly educated voter of Chandigarh is rendered powerless in this exercise of choosing new councillors every five years who choose a new mayor every year.
Some of these nominated councillors are indeed eminent people, but there’s no dearth of embarrassments personified here too. One such is a scholar of Persian, a lyrical language with a captivating beauty; but her language in the House is anything but lyrical. And that is relevant not because they are unelected. That is relevant because they have voting rights in the House even when they never won any votes to get there in the first place.
There’s no doubt that elected members have distinguished themselves time and again by making the House seem more like a noisy playground than a place where people’s problems are discussed. But they are elected, at least. It is the people who have sent them there, and the people can throw them out too.
Good or bad or ugly, they are after all a reflection of the people that they represent.
The merry-go-round works well for most people, though. Elected councillors keep on beating their chests about the fact that they are elected, and the nominated members keep underlining how special they are. Meanwhile, bureaucrats run the city and the people are busy discussing everything from Ram Mandir to Donald Trump. Go out, vote, and make some noise about this sham democracy in your backyard. Punjab’s elections come after yours.