Panchayat polls heighten caste tension in Bihar

DH News Service
PATNA, April 2

Coming as it is after more than 22 years, the panchayat elections scheduled in the month of April in six phases, have generated unprecedented interest across rural Bihar even as it has intensified caste tension with the spectre of violence looming large.

Altogether a whopping 4.5 lakh nominations have been filed for different posts in the local bodies. Starting from kith and kin of the chief minister, ministers and prominent politicians of different political parties to a large number of history sheeters have joined the fray to capture power at the grass roots level. Parsadi Chowdhury, father of Chief Minister Ms Rabri Devi is a candidate for mukhiya from his village in Gopalgunj district.

According to a rough estimate so far at least 30 mukhiya candidates have been killed across the state and many more have lost their lives in poll related violence. Going by the initial indications it is being apprehended that the election would be one of the bloodiest one in the history of Bihar. Past records support the apprehension since the last panchayat poll held in 1978 had claimed more than 100 lives according to official figures. Unofficial figures however had put the toll to be more than 500.

The situation has further aggravated in view of the poll boycot call issued by the out-lawed Naxal outfits. Already a number of incidents of abduction and murder of candidates by the outfits have been reported. To cap it a host of criminal elements are contesting and according to reports are openly brandishing arms and canvassing.

However the panchayat election being held after two decades has led a new phase of caste tussle at the grassroots level. Earlier the upper castes who used to have a strangel hold over these local bodies are finding it difficult this time to match the upsurge among the backwards, extremely backwards and Dalits urge for acquiring power. In fact the caste tension which used have its divide between the upper castes and the backwards has seeped below among the backwards, extremely backwards and the Dalits.

The upsurge among these sections is at such a high that a huge number of candidates have entered the fray. At many places, for a single post of the village mukhiya as many as 40 candidates are in the fray of whom mostly are from the backward and Dalit sections. In many cases it has led to intra-caste tension. However the election has its share of exceptions. According to the state election office 1959 members of the Gram Panchayats, 28 Mukhiya's and 2 zila parishads have been elected unopposed.

Though the election is being held on a non-political basis, political parties inspite of the absence of their flags and symbols have put in everything to have their men in the local bodies. The local units of the parties are at work and in many cases the candidates are openly flaunting their political affiliations to win the poll.

Despite everything, the enthusiasm across rural Bihar centering the election is unmatched. Much more than witnessed during the general and assembly polls. The administration, however, faces the challenge of conducting a peaceful election. The state had demanded 37 more companies of paramilitary forces from the Centre which has been turned down. State Home Commissioner U N Panjiar said that now they were largely dependent upon the state police force and the home guards.

In view of a huge demand for security from the candidates Mr Panjiar said that it was not possible to extend security to so many persons. From today the home commissioner along with other senior officials will travel across the state to take stock of the law and order situation at the block level in view of the election.

Source:Deccan Herald
Referred by: Mukundan CM
Published on: April 5, 2001
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