Now, state govt nod needed for local elections!

In a democracy, the minimum that we should be able to expect is HOLDING ELECTIONS ON TIME. But it seems now that even this basic threshold is not guaranteed in Karnataka. Yesterday, the legislature passed a law – with all parties agreeing – that the State Election Commission cannot schedule elections to local bodies (like BBMP and other city governments) without its ‘consent’. I.e. if the state government feels the time is not right for holding elections, that’s the way it will be.

The Election Commission of India controls only Parliament and Assembly elections, and those are constitutionally anchored. Elections to local bodies is controlled by State Election Commission, which are not as independent, constitutionally.

We all know what happened when they refused to hold BBMP elections for almost 4 years. MLAs like it when there are no local bodies, because in the absence of corporators they get to rule over the constituency without competition. But this is plainly undemocratic, and unconstitutional, possibly.

I am sure we are heading for a situation where, when BBMP council term ends in two years, the State government will say that (a) delimitation of wards for the next election is not complete; (b) we are considering splitting up BBMP into smaller municipalities, and (c) we dont think SEC should hold elections until these two issues are sorted out.

The problem for voters is that THERE IS NO ONE IN THE ASSEMBLY TO CHALLENGE ANY OF THIS, even though it is clearly going to dilute voter participation in governance. That’s why we need to contest elections and win some of these spots, so that the casual dilution of democracy does not happen.

I think we should also explore in court whether such delays in holding elections are constitutional. In my view, elections should be held on the same date each year, for all levels of government which are due for a change of government. Considering the tendency of our governments to not last full term we can perhaps have two dates, one in May and another in November, and schedule all elections on these.

Under no circumstances should ANYONE in the country have the right to say that elections are not needed on time. If we’re going to build a future based on such thinking, we may as well stop calling ourselves a democracy.

I hope the Governor will not sign this bad law into enactment.

Ashwin Mahesh
About Ashwin Mahesh 85 Articles
Ashwin Mahesh has been involved in public policy for Bengaluru through his work with the Karnataka government. The views expressed here are his own. He is a member of the Lok Satta party. He is also CEO of Mapunity Information Services, and a director at Oorvani Media, publisher of Citizen Matters and India Together. He is also a visiting faculty with the Centre for Public Policy at IIM Bangalore.

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