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Growing Grassroots

Monday, May 16, 2016

Last week the Fadnavis government yet again reintroduced the system of direct elections to the Municipal Council President. The concept was in vogue in 2002, but had to be abandoned six years later as it was found to be counter-productive. In the sense that if the President was from your rival party he or she would block your proposal even if you had the majority in the civic body.

It seems as though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena whenever they are in power love to tinker with the system of grassroots democracy. Recently it tried to amend the law governing Cooperative Marketing Societies so as to pave the way for appointment of non-executive professionals from the marketing field on Agricultural Marketing Federations. What many in the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) feel that it is like gaining entry into the Cooperative sector through the backdoor. The local Cooperative sectors of milk, sugar, cooperative banks, agricultural produce market committees had so far been the backbone of the support that the Congress and later on the NCP has enjoyed. So far they have controlled the levers of power both at the administrative and political level as well.

Way back in 1995-99 the then Shivshahi government of Manohar Joshi had introduced the Mayor-in-Council system in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elevating the Mayor to the status of a Chief Minister and executive powers. Alarmed as the Mayor began behaving like a bull in a china shop, the system was hastily withdrawn a year later. One could understand the Sena doing this as it only in mid-1990’s that it began spreading its wings outside Mumbai.

But for the BJP which through the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Kisan Morcha and other affiliate organizations had a semblance of a presence at the grassroots level. However, it never grew and that was where its problems in grassroots support base today lie. Despite having a premier research and training institute like the Rambhau Mhalgi Prabhodhini to train budding corporators and activists in various off-shoots of the grassroots democratic system.

The lack of support base has often hurt the BJP and the Sena whenever they are in power. They are facing problems on account of that in the Legislative Council in the state and in the Rajya Sabha in the parliament at the national level. And that is because they have not paid attention to improving their grassroots presence in the Urban Local Bodies (Civic Bodies) and the Cooperative Sector beyond their areas of urban influence like Mumbai, Thane and Nagpur.

That is because Legislative Council constituencies like Thane Local Authorities cover civic bodies in the region. Despite the majority in the Legislative Assembly and the Lok Sabha, the BJP finds it difficult in pushing through key reforms as the Congress led opposition in the Council and Rajya Sabha becomes a road block. It will take at least 2018-19 for the BJP to regain the upper hand in both the Council in the state and in the Rajya Sabha in the Parliament. By then it will have to gear up for the 2019 Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, perform better so as to maintain their leverage in the upper house, or risk sliding back to where they belonged. Hence, it is an uphill task for the BJP still.

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