Goa’s grass-root temples of democracy are witnessing political sabotage and corruption. The Chief Minister and Panchayat Minister have shamelessly put up their hands up claiming that little can be done to remedy the mass scale rigging in the delimitation and reservation of wards for the ensuing panchayat elections scheduled on May 16, 2012. A genuine cry against the fraud which seeks to deny Constitutional right of every citizen to a free and fair election is sought to be brushed aside by adopting pretence of limitations in law. Does the Constitution and other legal provisions restrict stalling of an electoral process that denies basic Constitutional rights of citizens and violates the principles of natural justice? Does the Constitution abandon the citizens in a situation of intended injustice perpetrated by a State Government?
The jargon of 'zero tolerance to corruption' has assumed a new meaning when it comes to tackling rigging of elections. It is probably limited to witch-hunting and disarming political rivals. It is a convenient tool to eradicating unfavourable officers within the executive wing of the government. If not, the mass-scale manipulations and injustice across the village panchayats of Goa should have evoked prompt action from the Government no sooner it got noticed.
The lack of time is no excuse. Fifteen days from the date of notification on delimitation of wards is enough time in governance. If corrigendums could be issued to rectify errors in some cases, why was the same yard-stick not used for all villages across Goa? Instead, the Government hurriedly goes ahead on April 18,2012 to notify the dates for the electoral process and thereby take cover of law to legitimise this injustice.
Parrikar broke his silence almost a month after the controversy broke out and besides the excuse of lack of time surfaced, he came up with yet another excuse about a deadline of May 19 for the new panchayat bodies to be in place. He probably believes that public memory is short about a similar deadline of January 30 that also existed in 2007. The Government had then postponed Panchayat elections by six months on frivolous grounds that Assembly elections were due any moment. Administrators were appointed during that period. So when such a precedent existed, what stopped the Government from stepping in to curb this glaring electoral fraud?
The extent of manipulation in the delimitation and reservation of wards is so blatant that ward No. 2 in Chicalim Village Panchayat was once again declared a reserved ward for women in the March 31 notification. It was restored to a general ward through a corrigendum issued on April 14, after objections were filed. But, on April 19, after the election date was declared, the same Ward No. 2 got reserved for OBC through a second corrigendum. The story of arbitrariness and manipulations in delimitations and reservations is the same across the talukas of Bicholim, Bardez, Tiswadi, Salcette, Sanguem, Quepem and Mormugao. Wards without SC/ST/OBC population have been reserved for SC/ST/OBC. Does a Government function on mere hear say of Talathis, BDOs when it comes to information on caste population?
But the `upright’ chief minister seems extra tolerant to this injustice, contending that postponing elections is not in his hands. He seeks to confuse public by drawing parallels of the Panchayat elections conducted by the State Election Commission with that of the Parliamentary and State Assembly elections conducted by the Central Election Commission.
The latter decides the dates independently from any Government, but the dates for Panchayat elections are dictated to the SEC by the State Government. And so, it was not that the SEC had notified the date of elections independently from the Government. If a corrigendum could be issued by the Director of Panchayats after the poll process was notified causing postponement of elections by six days in the case of Calangute Village Panchayat, then why could the same not be done for other Village Panchayats?
Therefore, this manipulation and injustice is far from an accident, but a deliberate ploy to influence the electoral results to favour certain political motives. The irony is that those who otherwise hop around town as champions of village causes are now muted. Instead, they indirectly endorse the injustice by participating in the unjust electoral process, some of whom have filed their nominations to contest the elections. The credit for protesting against this injustice must go to the lone warriors like Anil Zamble, Urmila Gauns and Sebastiao Gama who went on a ‘fast unto death’ for six days but were convinced into breaking it due to serious health complications. The apathy of the general public is worrisome.
Seeing the spirit of the few protestors against this electoral fraud, the battle is far from over. Those who detest the undemocratic manner in which wards were demarcated or reserved can still show their protest by refusing to participate in such a process, by abstaining from voting. It is not too late to bring on record the manipulations in ward delimitations and reservations by filing objections with specific details before the Director of Panchayats and the Government. Nothing can stop the people from exploring avenues for seeking justice through litigation, even if the results are declared.
A fraud should not be allowed to masquerade as law and those responsible for the present mess must be brought to book. Nothing is impossible if the people get their priorities right and their intentions straight. Goa lies in its villages and only if the people from the villages remain in control of their local governments could Goa be saved.