Share power with panchayats to strengthen grassroot democracy
It was a wary electoral battle. It was a contest in which political parties refrained from getting involved and the field was left open to MLAs to tighten their political grip on villages. And when votes were finally counted and results declared almost all MLAs came out on top. Baring a few cases, it would seem that the alignment that took place during the Assembly elections endured for the panchayat polls. While this is great news for sitting MLAs it isn’t good for the ruling BJP which has literally sacrificed four seats to form the government.
When the government was formed it was the Goa Forward Party that faced a backlash for shaking hands with the enemy. Manohar Parrikar personally faced flak for overturning the mandate of the people. However, the panchayat election results have shown that none of the MLAs who went back on promises made during the Assembly polls suffered. In Siolim, Vinoda Palienkar of the GFP tightened his grip on the constituency when his panels capture all five panchayats. In neighbouring Saligao, Jayesh Salgaocar was able to hold on to four villages, but lost Pilerne-Marra and Sangolda where his supporters tasted defeat at the hands of independents. No other political party faced a backlash and the fact that the two GFP MLAs were able to stay steady despite resentment is good news for the party.
There were ups and downs, surprises and twists of fate as staff of the State Election Commission counted votes, but the biggest surprise of all was Calangute MLA, Michael Lobo’s complete dominance of the constituency. For the first time in three decades, his bete noir, Joseph Sequeira lost a panchayat election. Sequeira had dominated Calangute panchayat for as long as one can remember. Lobo put an end to his long run and stamped his authority on the constituency.
The 80 per cent turn-out for the elections shows that people have not lost faith in democratic institutions at the grassroot level. It also indicates that, despite limited devolution of powers to panchayats, they still remain important institutions of governance. Grassroot democracy is a work in progress, but what is here to stay is the belief that people can participate in governance through these institutions. This show of confidence should be enough for the government to do a re-think on the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution and seriously consider transfer of more powers.
The last time panchayats played a pivotal role in governance was during the formation of the regional plan when Digambar Kamat was the chief minister. The faith reposed in panchayats and the people by the former chief minister was immense and resulted in the creation of regional plan 2021, which despite its short-comings was truly a grassroot level document. For participatory democracy to flourish, the government must take a leap of faith and transfer more powers to panchayats.