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EDITORIAL: Grassroots Politics, Decentralization Of Power

Power and authority to the grass root is undeniably one of the more favored slogans of a democracy and while no one can justifiably contest the merit behind the philosophy of disseminating power to the grass root level, this comes with certain riders, as evidenced in the institution of local self Governments, such as the Panchayats at the village level, Municipal Corporations in the metros and Municipal Councils in the lesser or smaller cities.

In the hills we have the autonomous district councils and for towns there are the town councils. Local self Government is necessitated by the need to recognize and acknowledge the local peculiarities that abound in a multi-faceted society like India and this is one of the most effective mechanisms to address issues at the micro-level. But as we have said, this arrangement comes with certain riders and that is the overall authority of the State over these self governing bodies. Thus the respective State Governments are entrusted with the authority of deciding the executive powers that may be disseminated to these local self governing units and hence a Municipal Council in Manipur may be something quite different from a Municipal Council found in say, Assam or West Bengal.

In as much as these local self governing units are under the overall authority of the State Government, its importance in power politics is something that cannot be overlooked and this is the reason why elections to the urban local civic bodies such as the Municipalities attract so much attention from all political parties and political leaders. In short, election to these self governing bodies are usually seen and interpreted as a referendum at the grass root level on the performance or non-performance of the party/parties heading the Government in a State.

A recent example that comes to mind is the election to the urban civic bodies in Kolkata and if political pundits had placed their bets on the Trinamool Congress during the recent Assembly election in West Bengal, it had to do a lot with the results of the elections to the urban civic bodies. The same is the case with the Municipal Corporations in other State capitals such as Mumbai, Delhi and other metropolitan cities. To the local MLAs, election to the local self governing units is increasingly seen as something of a test on their performance at their respective Assembly Constituencies for it is about taking the opinion of the people at the micro-level where each ward may have issues which are unique to them.

The political culture in Manipur is yet to take up the lines found in the big metros but election to the local bodies, particularly the Imphal Municipal Council, has seen an increased interest from the political big-wigs of the State. It is along this line or in acknowledging the mood and opinion of the people at the grass root level that we see prominent political figures, including the Chief Minister and the State unit presidents of different political parties campaigning for their candidates in the Imphal Municipal Council, for which election will be held today.

The scenario is no longer the same as it was 15 or 10 years back. It is no longer a contest between two neighbors, but about a contest between two political parties and their ideologies. True, election to the Municipal Council of Imphal is not the same as election to the State Assembly, but the intensity of the competition and the proportionate growth in the importance of money power is something which stand out prominently and this year’s run up to the election to the Imphal Municipal Council had all the ingredients of a top notch political drama, where the winner takes all.

If the importance and political significance in the election to the Imphal Municipal Council has been growing with each passing year or term, then ideally there should also be an increasing importance or significance in the role and responsibility of the Council. The manner in which Imphal Municipal Council has been functioning all these years will no one in doubt that there has been no corresponding increase in the significance and importance of this Council, compared to the hoopla surrounding the election of the Councilors. This is the right time to question why this is so.

A look at Imphal will leave no one in doubt about the veracity of our observation. At the moment, Imphal has all the negative characteristics of an urban, metropolitan city, but none of the positives that come along with being a city. The level of pollution has touched sky high, the filth and dirt, earlier associated with only the big cities have now come to be an inseparable identity of Imphal and a few hours of rain is more than enough to reduce all the roads and lanes into rivulets. The traffic menace, the unmanageable garbage, the stink, the absence of proper water supply provisions, absence of civic amenities are all tell tale signs of a sick and ailing urban local self governing unit, which in this case is the Imphal Municipal Council.

Down the years, people have become accustomed to reports of how employees of the IMC have had to cope with no salaries for months, the power mongering amongst the Councilors etc. Ideally it is expected of a Municipal Council to busy itself with activities such as urban planning, regulation of land-use and construction of buildings, roads and bridges, public health, sanitation etc and ideally this is the right time that questions should be raised which may find the responsible people squirming with discomfort. The rain in the last few days has undoubtedly inconvenienced the average man in Imphal, but it may also be seen as a God sent opportunity to raise questions before the candidates and play an influencing role in the choice of the voters.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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