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Rajasthan panchayat elections: Phase two completed, uncertainty prevails over remaining ones

JAIPUR: The second phase of Panchayat polls to elect 2,312 Sarpanches of 74 Panchayat Samitis in Rajasthan passed off peacefully on Wednesday.

However, public and political attention was firmly fixed on election of over 4,000 gram panchayats in the state that remains stuck in a legal mess.

With Deputy CM Sachin Pilot and the Panchayati Raj Department he heads openly blaming the Rajasthan Election Commission for the delay, the tussle between the Election Commission and the Department has further intensified.

The tenure of the current Panchayat Raj functionaries will finish after February 7 which makes it necessary for Panchayat Polls to be completed by that date.

However, the reorganisation of Panchayats in Rajasthan has delayed the electoral process in 4,383 panchayats.

As a result, instead of elected representatives, administrators will be appointed in these district councils and panchayat committees for the first time in three decades.

Given this situation, the Rajasthan Election Commission and the Panchayati Raj Department are now blaming each other for the delay and a virtual ‘letter-war’ has erupted between them.

On January 14, Sachin Pilot had sent a letter asking the Rajasthan Election Commission to hold all panchayat elections before their tenure ends.

In response, the Secretary of the State Election Commission shot off a letter on January 17 that perhaps the ACS, Panchayati Raj Department has not fully informed the minister about the delays and advised him to get the SLP on this issue resolved at the earliest.

In the latest letter, Rajeshwar Singh, the ACS, Panchayati Raj Department has written a point-by-point rejoinder to the letter from the Secretary of the State Election Commission and tried to absolve the department of any blame for the delay.

Even Sachin Pilot insists that like everyone else in the state, he and his department were keen to avoid any delay and that’s why he had written a letter to the Rajasthan Election Commission: ‘‘It’s the first time that elections to Zila Parishads and Panchayat Samitis are not being held along with Gram Panchayat polls. When Sarpanch elections can be held according to existing rolls, then the same could have been used for electing Pradhans and Pramukhs. Since the Supreme Court always wants elections to be held in time that’s why I had sent the letter to the state Commission.’’

Political observers say there is a hidden hand of Pilot-Gehlot tensions in the delay of Panchayat polls for the fourth phase and uncertainty in over 4,000 gram panchayats.

Sachin Pilot has been the Congress State President for the past six years and experts assert that if elections to the Zila Parishad and Panchayat Samitis are held on time, the task of distributing the symbol will be done at the level of the state Congress president.

However, a strong camp in the party wants these elections to be held only after Pilot steps down as state Congress Chief which could make it easy to field their own favourite candidates.

Sadly, in this internal battle of the Congress, the Panchayat Raj system of the state will be directly handed over to the officials instead of elected representatives for the first time in several decades.