Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
A video from Nashik's Umrane village where panchayat elections were held not by any democratic process but through an auction amounting to Rs 2 crore went viral. In a similar incident, another video of auctioning of the panchayat seats in Nandurbar's Khondamali village also went viral. Maharasthra election commissioner cancelled the panchayat polls in both villages.
The Quint decided to dive deeper into the matter and fathom why the villagers decided on auctioning the sarpanch's post. Here's the inside story of democracy 'on sale' in Maharashtra's villages.
This wasn’t a deal among politicians, where an opposition leader was paid to leave the battleground. Here, villagers were taking money from the leaders. When The Quint spoke to officials, politicians, local reporters and most importantly, the villagers, we found out that this was not the first auction for the sarpanch’s post in Umrane.
MANDIR BANAO, SARPANCH BAN JAO...
This was the first time that the visuals of the same went viral on social media. The Quint also found out that in Umrane, the construction of a temple has been put on hold for the past eight years. The cost of the construction amounts to nearly Rs 2 crore. Hence, it was decided that whoever would pay Rs 2 crore for the construction of the temple would be chosen the Sarpanch.
INSIDE STORY: DEMOCRACY 'ON SALE' IN MAHARASHTRA
The Quint was told that violence and liquor abuse over elections are common in Umrane, leading to communal hatred and infighting. So the village elders decided that rather than indulging in hatred and violence, all the villagers would sit together and decide on who their sarpanch would be.
The solution to sit together and choose a sarpanch every time, without any violence or hatred, was an ideal one. Except – the process involved money and auctioning. Besides, villages even compete over the highest bid placed in these panchayat polls.
WHY WOULD ANYONE SPEND Rs 2 CRORE TO BE A SARPANCH?
In a developing state like Maharashtra, villages close to a new highway or industrial and infrastructural projects are crucial. Sarpanches in these villages play a major role, too. In Umrane as well, big projects and onion exports worth crores make the village sarpanch very influential.
It's not that people have not opposed to this open 'democracy on sale' in the village. But anyone who has opposed these practices have been condemned. Besides, no evidence prior to the videos going viral this time, and unity among villagers ensured no necessary action was ever taken against auctioning of panchayat seats.
A few years ago, candidates for the panchayat elections in Nashik’s Munde village were brought in by helicopters. Their trip to Mumbai and Goa ahead of the panchayat polls had made headlines.
ELECTIONS CANCELLED BUT BIG QUESTIONS REMAIN
Maharashtra election commissioner UPS Madan ordered the cancellation of the elections in Umrane village in Nashik district and Khondamali village in Nandurbar district after videos of auctioning of sarpanch's post went viral on social media. He has also ordered the Collectors of both the districts to register cases against the persons involved in the bidding and submit the report before the election commission.
Despite the elections being cancelled this time around, big questions remain:
- Is mere cancelling the elections sufficient? Does open auctioning in panchayat polls not point towards bigger issues?
- Isn't auctioning of panchayat posts, specially the sarpanches, represent a national issue? Shouldn't stricter action be taken?
- Doesn't this show the belief that the sarpanches would clearly not do their job later, so why not extort money from them in advance?