D. P. Bhattacharya, Express India
Ahmedabad, November 29: With the deadline for withdrawal of nomination forms for panchayat elections over on Wednesday, a number of Dalits and women who have filed their nomination defying the pressure not to contest are still living under fear. Apart from state officials at district levels, the dominant higher-caste Patels too are alleged to be pushing for Samras scheme in certain areas.
However, State Election Commissioner Ashok Bhatia pointed out that the commission has been taking every possible measure to ensure that the panchayat elections are carried out in a free and fair manner. “We have already issued a code of conduct and asked the district collectors to see that it is strictly adhered to,” said Bhatia.In Lei village of Idar taluka in Sabarkantha district, Saujibhai Parmar, a Dalit contestant had filed his nomination papers last week. “We are being constantly pressurised by the dominant Patels to withdraw papers,” he said. He said in case he withdraws his papers, the village would adopt Samras by electing a sarpanch from the Patel community.
However defying pressure, Saujibhai refused to withdraw his papers. His cousin Narayanbhai said that the dominant Patel community in the village is threatening Saujibhai and his family. “We are now living under a lot of fear,” Narayanbhai said over phone. “We are also being constantly watched by their people,” he added. In fact, a team worker from Mahila Swaraj Abhiyan (MSA), an Ahmedabad-based NGO have reached Lei village to be with Saujibhai until elections are over. “There is a lot of fear and threat, so we have decided to post our worker for the next 10 days to ensure nothing goes wrong,” said a member of MSA.
In the case of Nandaben, the present sarpanch of Katol village in Kalol taluka of Panchmahal district, pressure came from local political leaders. While she was away from the village after filing her nominations, her husband was summoned to a village meeting last night and was asked to sign a paper declaring the withdrawal of her nominations. Nandaben’s husband Rajubhai told Newsline that a local BJP leader had in fact asked her why wanted to contest and forgo the money that the village would get by adopting Samras. Nandaben, however, stuck to her guns and decided to go ahead with contesting.
In some villages like Vand in Kutch, contestants are being lured with money. Dheeraben Rajgore of Kutch Mahila Vikash Sansthan informed Newsline that an SC woman contestant Meethaben Sanghar from Vand was offered Rs 2 lakh by a rival contestant to withdraw her nomination. However, she refused, said Rajgore, who is also contesting the election from the nearby Bijla village. “There is tremendous pressure to withdraw nomination,” said Rajgore adding that unless adequate security is provided possibility of some untoward incident cannot be ruled out.
In another incident a Dalit woman contestant Kamuben Parmar was forced to withdraw her nomination on Tuesday night in Gadaria village in Jasdan taluka of Rajkot district. She alleged that the mamlatdar threatened her that unless she withdraws her nomination, no development work would be taken up in the village in the next five years.
A highly placed source in the State Election Commission, however, said that possibility of such sporadic incidents cannot be altogether ruled out. “We are conducting elections in more than 10,000 villages, so there will be some unpleasant incidents,” said the source adding that by and large, the State was better off considering such elections in other states.
“However, in such sporadic cases, one can always take legal recourse or file complaints with us, and we would definitely look into the matter,” he added. Bhatia meanwhile informed Newsline that the State Election Commission has already asked for a detailed report on the entire process of filing of nominations for the panchayat election apart from issuing necessary instructions to the various district collectors following the reports of mamlatdars adding extra question sheets to nomination papers and covertly coercing villagers to adopt Samras.