In India, Parliament and other legislative bodies are often referred to as temples of democracy. In Madhya Pradesh, however, the temples of worship may now decide the destiny of temples of democracy.
In the ongoing panchayat elections in Madhya Pradesh, in a number of cases, the post of the sarpanch (village headman) has been handed over to someone who donates the highest amount for the local temple. It is not done illegally, though. The highest donor (or bidder) files his nomination papers before the election authorities and is elected unopposed. Madhya Pradesh is conducting polls to 23,000 village panchayats in three phases from December 22 to February 22. Many voters say the elections are not good for their community as they divide people.
Bhabua panchayat in Chhatarpur district, which borders Uttar Pradesh, has never seen an election of its village sarpanch in the last two decades. The panchayat consists of two villages, Bhabua with 1,500 voters and Rampur with 400 votes. The bidding process is simple. Aspirants are asked to pledge land or money to the village temple. Kamta Patel pledged five acres, outbidding two other contenders. His son Raghuvir has been made the consensus candidate and is likely to win.
“We don’t want any wastage of resources on elections and, later, fights among ourselves,” says Vrindavan Patel, a village elder. This year, however, there is a break in tradition. Bhaggu Patel, a former sarpanch, has decided to go against the voters of Bhabua with the help of the people in Rampur. While Bhabua is dominated by Patels belonging to the Kurmi community, the Yadavs are in majority in Rampur. With Bhabua voters backing Raghuvir, it is unlikely that Bhaggu Patel can cause an upset.
Villages like Bhabua are not exceptions. In Shivpuri district, two villages have elected their sarpanch in the same manner. Rachhi village elected Sitaram Yadav its sarpanch after he offered Rs10 lakh for the renovation of the local temple. In an open bid, aspirants were asked to declare how much money they could offer. Although many came forward, it was Sitaram who actually deposited the amount, which was the highest bid.
“Since Sitaram has pledged the highest amount, we have decided to give him the post. Once this is decided before our deity, nobody can run away from it,” says Kamal Singh Ojha, a villager. Local journalist Manoj Bhargava says although the village does not have pucca roads or a sewage system, people still want to build temples.
Digodhi is another village in the same block, where the same procedure was followed. On a Friday afternoon in December, people gathered at the Ram-Janki temple to auction the post of sarpanch. Vijay Dhakad, a villager, says while many people were ready to become sarpanch, the real fight was between Gopal Dhakad, who offered Rs10 lakh, and Ghanshyam Sharma, who offered Rs11 lakh. It was a high-voltage affair, with the bidders raising the offer with each passing round. Dhakad finally bid Rs11.25 lakh but Sharma beat him by quoting Rs12 lakh.
In Belgadha village in Gwalior district, four candidates from the majority Rawat community declared their intention to contest the election. Since the aspirants were from the same community, it was decided to amicably settle on one candidate through auction. Members of the community, along with the aspirants, gathered at the temple, where the highest bid was offered by Mujban Singh, son of former Congress MLA Pahad Singh. Mujban’s Rs15.10 lakh bid turned out to be the highest. But his wife will be the sarpanch, as the post is reserved for women here. It was decided at the auction that the amount would be spent on the two Hanuman temples in the villages of Belgadha and Jakhbar.
In the neighbouring Guna district, Patondi village elected its sarpanch through an auction for Rs11.53 lakh; Aranya panchayat did it for Rs9.51 lakh. In both these villages, the money will go to the renovation of village temples. In Baneh panchayat, Ramchandra Dhakad ‘donated’ land worth Rs17.50 lakh to the village temple to make his daughter-in-law Rajkumari the sarpanch. He also distributed sugarcane worth Rs4 lakh among the villagers.
In Mevli panchayat of Bhind district, located in the ravines of Chambal, Hanumant Singh and three others filed nominations for the post of sarpanch. Just before the deadline for withdrawal of nominations, the village elders called the contestants to the village temple and declared that whoever gave two bighas of land to the village temple would be elected unopposed. Only Hanumant Singh agreed to it and he was elected sarpanch.
In Borda Gurjar village of Ujjain district, there were seven contestants. The village elders here decided to elect a person who would build a temple. An auction was held, where the bid opened at Rs2 lakh and closed at Rs17 lakh. Jeevan Singh Ansal, 25, was elected unopposed, and Rs17 lakh was deposited in the temple fund.
In Pandhri panchayat of Indergarh in Datia district, Raghvendra Yadav bought the post of sarpanch for Rs28 lakh and ‘gifted’ it to his aunt Chanda Yadav. Dhabla panchayat in Mandsaur district selected Dhule Singh as the consensus candidate for Rs8 lakh. In 2005, the post of sarpanch here was auctioned for Rs75,000. Yogendra Joshi, a social worker, has filed a complaint with the election authorities saying this is against the election rules.
“Any kind of threat or lure is against the rules,” said R. Parasuram, state election commissioner. “A case can be registered if a complaint is made.”
Auctions apart, there are other methods to elect a candidate unopposed. In Sukhwah panchayat of Seoni district, which had three aspirants, a mock poll was conducted at the local anganwadi building. The candidate who got the highest number of votes was made the consensus candidate, and was elected unopposed.
Interestingly, all panchayats who elect their sarpanches unopposed are eligible for Rs5 lakh as per a government scheme.
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