Local body polls fall to confrontation between EC and Govt

Amaravati: The little republics are caught in a big fight. Elections for urban and rural local bodies are failing to materialize in Andhra Pradesh on one reason or the other. It is like the government proposes and the State Election Commission (SEC) disposes. The term of the ULBs (Urban Local Bodies) and RLBs (Rural Local Bodies) expired way back in 2008. As a result, the urban and Panchayat Raj bodies are under the ex-officio rule since then.

The YSRC government has proposed to hold the elections on March 23, this year. But the State Election Commissioner (SEC) N. Ramesh Kumar deferred the election process mid-way citing the Covid pandemic. In the meantime, the SEC took cognizance of complaints from the TDP and the other opposition parties that the process of elections became one sided in favour of the ruling party before the polling and election of ruling party candidates unopposed–in 20-25 percent of posts in an unprecedented manner–vindicated their charge. The opposition parties also accused the official machinery tasked with conducting elections of bias against their candidates in the fray. The SEC held the urban and rural SPs and Collector of Guntur, and SPs of Tirupati Urban and Rural and the Collector of Chittoor district found guilty and directed the government for their shifting. But the SEC’s directions were thrown to the winds.

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Showdown

The deferment of elections triggered a war between the SEC and the government that eventually saw the exit of Ramesh Kumar through an ordinance. Chief Minister Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy said the SEC’s decision was arbitrary, accusing Ramesh Kumar of bias in favour of the TDP.

After his sacking by the government, Ramesh Kumar got a direction from the AP High Court for his reinstatement as the SEC.

Now, the government and the SEC are back to the war rooms holding conflicting positions on the question of elections. Ramesh Kumar took a different stand, willing to hold the elections. But the government has opposed the move, citing a spike in the Covid cases. When Ramesh Kumar convened an all-party meeting seeking their cooperation to conduct the elections, the ruling party stayed away.

Stalemate

The SEC has no mechanism of its own to conduct the elections and it is the constitutional responsibility of the respective State governments to make way for the election process in coordination with the SEC. A stalemate has prevailed with the conflicting stands of the government and the SEC. And, both apparently showed no mood to budge from their explicit positions. Understandably, Ramesh Kumar is determined to complete the elections before he demits office in March, 2021. At the same time the Jagan’s government is also equally determined not to conduct the elections as long as he continues as the SEC, doubting his objectivity and neutrality. It’s the state government that has a say over conducting the elections for the local bodies. Chief Secretary Neelam Sahney conveyed the anti-poll mood of the government to Ramesh Kumar.

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In this context it is clear that the government is expected to take the legal recourse and stretch the issue up to Ramesh Kumar’s retirement, due in the next five months. The opposition parties favouring the election defended the SEC, citing Bihar which is going to Assembly elections and Telangana where the process for local body elections is underway to buttress their argument. D. Somasundar, an analyst, said ego clash from either side of the government or the SEC shall not deprive the local bodies of their due right to have elections.

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