Monday, October 17, 2011

[ZESTCaste] A village that's waited decades to cast a vote

NAGAPATTINAM, October 15, 2011
A village that's waited decades to cast a vote
P. V. Srividya

In each poll, nominated candidates get elected "unopposed"

"I'm yet to have an inked index finger for a panchayat election," says
a Dalit woman in her thirties, outside her rain-washed hutment in
Karupampulam, a village near Vedaranyam in Nagapattinam district.

Karupampulam panchayat, barely10 kilometres from the site of Rajaji's
famous salt march, couldn't be further from Gandhiji's vision of rural
democracy: elections for rural panchayat bodies are never held because
each time, the nominated candidates get elected "unopposed". The last
three elections since the grant of constitutional sanctity for
Panchayati Raj were uncontested in Karupampulam. All the candidates
won unopposed and have been declared 'elected' yet again in 2011.

This week, even as neighbouring areas are in the thick of political
campaigning, Karupampulam bristles with a disconcerting silence. The
village, in fact, has not seen elections since the 1960s. A semblance
of an election was snuffed when a CPI candidate who had filed his
nomination for the rural panchayat chair was pressured to withdraw in
1964. The only contested local election ever witnessed here was in
1986, when the Communist candidate lost by a bare margin.

Karupampulam, steeped in a pre-Independence village economy based on
the pannai system (mirasdarship), is yet to reconcile to democratic
political mores. Politics here continues to be defined and determined
by a staunch legacy of this bygone feudal system, where the 'village
powerful' decide the nominees.

Of the local bodies here, the reserved offices of the panchayat
president and that of the panchayat councillor have been filled
unopposed, and eight of the nine wards have been declared filled with
unopposed candidates. Significantly, most of these candidates were
incumbents with a baggage of non-performance and the target of
people's discontent.

Two candidates were 'asked' to withdraw their nominations for the post
of president. "I was running till October 3, the last date for
withdrawal of nominations, and was finally hounded out of the
contest," one of the two persons who had filed and earlier withdrew
from the contest said.

The president-elect now had filed and withdrawn his nominations in
2006, and his 'unanimous' nomination this time was a compromise, says
a source.

For now, the only election that will be seen here this week shall be
for Ward 1, where, for the first time, an independent candidate has
filed his nomination. This single contest in just one of the nine
wards has generated an unspelt fear among the villagers.

Even as the people of Karupampulam resign themselves to their
effective disenfranchisement, the lone braveheart has petitioned the
District Collector seeking declaration of their booth as 'sensitive'.
My aim is not to fight anybody, but to help create a culture of
democratic contest, rather than this mirage of 'unanimous election of
puppet nominees'," he says. When contacted by The Hindu, Collector
T.Munusamy gave an assurance that the booth will be declared as

Paradoxically, the booth level officer was seen sifting through voter
slips outside the house of the Dalit woman, just where the concrete
road ends and the muddy slush that leads into the Dalit colony begins.
For her, the voter slip was a totem for the grassroots democracy that
was promised years ago but never delivered. "I will collect my slip
though I cannot use it to elect a candidate of my choice. I also wish
that somebody had the courage to contest against the 'nominated'
candidates, who may give us a better road."


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