Political parties flex muscles as local body elections draw closer in Telangana

Chief Minister Revanth Reddy has promised the BCs to increase their reservation, but it will not be an easy task.

ByRaj Rayasam

Published May 19, 2024 | 8:00 AMUpdatedMay 19, 2024 | 8:02 AM

Chief Minister Revanth Reddy is making deft moves to strengthen the party in areas where it is weak. (Sourced)

Though the Lok Sabha elections for 17 seats in Telangana are over, political leaders in the state are readying themselves to campaign for the forthcoming polls to Gram Panchayats, followed by the voting for the Mandal and Zilla Parishads.

The Telangana State Election Commission (TSEC) will likely notify panchayat elections to elect village sarpanches and ward members after the Lok Sabha poll results are out. The election will be on a non-party basis.

Telangana has 12,769 gram panchayats spread across 32 rural districts. It has 32 Zilla Parishads and 540 Mandal Parishads.

The state has a rural population of 2,04,59,164. Gram panchayat elections were last held in January 2019, in three phases.

As the model code of conduct imposed for the Lok Sabha elections is still in force, the state government may not advise the TSEC to conduct the polls till it is withdrawn. The TSEC will initiate the election process after it gets the green signal from the government.

The term of the panchayats in the state ended on 1 February and the state government had appointed special officers in their place. The term of the MPTCs and ZPTCs will end on 3 July.

Also Read: Women voters of Telangana, their aspirations, and still untapped political potential

The reservation conundrum 

The Backward Classes (BCs) are expecting the Congress to implement its promise of reserving for them 42 percent of seats in local bodies. Currently, the BCs have 22 percent reservation in local bodies.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Additionally, they also want the Congress to sub-categorised reservation for castes under the BC category.

It, however, is easier said than done. The Panchayat Raj (PR) Act, 2018, mandates that reservations for gram panchayat elections should  be in force for 10 years.

If Chief Minister A Revanth Reddy wants to hike the reservations, the elections might be delayed as the PR Act has to be amended and the government will have to get fresh data on backward castes. This might take a few months.

Furthermore, it will overshoot the cap of 50 percent on reservations.

But the fact remains that Revanth Reddy is in a hurry to strike the iron while it is still hot. He has dismissed BRS working president KT Rama Rao’s demand to continue with the sarpanches — even after their term is over — till the elections are held.

Also Read: What it means for Revanth Reddy if Congress loses in his home turf

Politics at play

The chief minister dismissed the demand since he did not want the outgoing sarpanches to remain in power since most of them belonged to the BRS.

Revanth Reddy did not want them to continue since it might prove counter-productive to his plans of consolidating the party’s gains in the Assembly elections in the villages. The state government refused extension to sarpanches when they made a representation for six months’ extension.

The government referred to the PR Act enacted by the BRS, which proscribed extension of term of sarpanches.

Already, the BRS has made no bones about its opposition to going ahead with the panchayat elections without conducting  the caste census.

“To ensure fair reservations for BCs in local body elections and render equal justice to all castes within the BCs, we request that elections to local bodies be conducted only after completing the caste census and categorising BCs in local bodies as was done in Karnataka,” BRS BC leader Sravan Dasoju said in a statement.

Call for caste census

He said that if it is not done, it will amount to insulting the BCs. “It is nothing but using them as mere voting machines and turning them into political slaves.”

BC leader and Rajya Sabha member from AP R Krishnaiah also echoed a similar opinion. “Let Revanth Reddy first complete caste census exercise, enhance reservations, and then go for the panchayat elections,” he said in a recent letter to the chief minister.

BJP national general secretary and Karimnagar MP Bandi Sanjay Kumar said it was imperative that one should vote for his party in the interest of developing the villages.

“Only then would the funds released by the Centre reach the panchayats directly,” he said while taking a swipe at the Congress, saying that if the people in villages supported the grand old party, the state government would divert the village panchayat funds to other schemes.

Also Read: Women voters of Telangana, their aspirations, and still untapped political potential

Revanth’s promise

In the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, the chief minister promised the party cadres that he would remember them when the local body elections arrive.

It was a carrot that he had dangled before them to make them work hard for the victory of the party in the Lok Sabha elections. Now, it is time for him to keep the promise.

The same is the case with the other parties. The BRS believes that since it has a statewide network, it might win the elections easily. But the Congress thinks that much water has flowed down the Godavari and the Krishna after the BRS’s debacle and that the people’s opinion is in its favour.

The BJP, too, is eyeing a significant number of seats in the polls as the panchayats get funding directly from the Centre.

It is already campaigning that in the local body elections, it is necessary for one to vote for the BJP-supported candidates to ensure that villages get development funds.

The party leaders recalled how the previous BRS government had diverted central funds meant for panchayats to other schemes and had made the sarpanches raise loans on personal capacity to take up development works.

Also Read: Telangana bags 13 of 46 national panchayat awards

Cost of development

When they sought reimbursement, the state had delayed clearing their bills. Several sarpanches had even died by suicide as the creditors kept mounting pressure on them for repayment.

The TSEC is understood to have already obtained the data from the Panchayat Raj Department regarding reservations for the positions of the sarpanches, ward members, Mandal Parishad Territorial constituencies (MPTCs) and Zilla Parishad Territorial Constituencies.

It is already making preparations for the local body elections. It has trained its staff. As the polls would be ballot based, the ballot boxes too are being readied.

The elections in the rural landscape are crucial for any political party as they form the substratum for them to build on. Though election to the offices of sarpanches and ward members are held on non-party basis, political parties fight a proxy battle in these polls.

A gram panchayat sarpanch is elected directly by the voters of the village while the upa-sarpanch — or deputy sarpanch — is elected by the ward members.

Election to Mandal and Zilla parishads are party based. The Mandal Parishad president is elected by the MPTCs and the ZP chairmen by the Zilla Parishad Territorial Constituency members.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).