Karnataka will see elections to Zilla and Taluk panchayats on Saturday (February 13) and February 20 and the major parties of the state have prepared themselves for the occasion by wooing the voters with all sorts of manifestoes.
With two years left for the next Assembly polls in the state, each election in the state from now is a big test for the parties, particularly the Congress and the BJP, both of which would renew their rivalry to secure the next term in the Vidhana Soudha.
Now the question is: are Karnataka's parties treating the immediate rural polls in a way that serves the idea of decentralisation of power, the main reason behind the holding rural polls? The Congress and the BJP, in their manifestoes, have outlined policies/programmes for the panchayat bodies and the rural voters in the near future.
Same basic promises: What has Karnataka's panchayat system has achieved in over 2 decades then?
The parties' promises stress development of the farmers' lot, more power for the panchayati raj institutions through more grants and basic services like potable water and sanitation. But these promises only prove that Karnataka hasn't really succeeded in achieving the basic goals of decentralisation by means of rural governance in almost two-and-half decades and that takes us back to the question we asked before: Are these polls being genuinely treated as a way to decentralisation of power to improve the rural life in the state?
Statisticians say just over 10.2 per cent of nearly 60,000 settlements in the state had access to 55 litre per capita per day of water. There are similar problems of open defecation, drainage, roads, streetlights, power, etc etc. Do the parties' lip service through their manifestoes make lives in rural Karnataka any better?
Those who matter do not count: That's the tragedy
The biggest problem with Karnataka's rural governance structure is that it is not really a bottom-up one, something which a democratic set-up should truly reflect. The Constitution has empowered the gram sabhas to look after the local people's needs and the plan to integrate the people's welfare with the system of rural governance needs to take off accordingly.
Rural polls just can't be a rehearsal for Assembly (2018) and national polls (2019)
But in reality, the plans that take effect lack participation and integration of the people who matter in the ultimate count. Other factors like inadequete generation of local revenue, irregular meetings of local bodies, lack of officials with specialisation in planning pose serious obstacles on the way of flourishing panchayats in the state. It will be a great service to the idea of rural governance if the parties stop seeing the elections to the rural bodies as just another milestone before the big tests like the Assembly election in 2018 and general elections in 2019.
The parties need to walk the talk and eye the next level of improvement
The parties, instead of making the same hollow promises every time they go to the rural voters, should work towards authenticating data and proper maintenance of accounts so that funds that are often misused or underused can be tracked and wastage of resources can be reduced.
They should ensure that the 14th Finance Commission's recommending funds for maintaining data and auditing of accounts at the gram-panchayat level is adhered to with no violation for narrow gains. But the parties are most concerned with their vote-share and some go past the post to grab power which they would like to use irresponsibly.