Vote: Broke’s Backwash Toilet or Biggie’s Bullet Train!


BY RK MISRA

Governments either placate people or subjugate them.The prerogatives of the powerful often override the wishes of the weak.The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws(Amendment) Bill,2009 which makes voting compulsory in elections to local self-government bodies falls in this category.Cleared by Governor O.P.Kohli,it was gazetted by the Gujarat Government on November 5 this year.Thus voting in civic elections is now compulsory in the state by law.But will it be?
A process initiated by the then chief minister Narendra Modi  as part of his brand building exercise in 2009,the Bill is now the law and the man who set the ball rolling is now the Prime Minister.However his successor,Anandiben Patel on whom the responsibility of implementing  it  rests is now realizing the enormity of the task at hand.
According to highly placed sources,the present Gujarat government has no intention of  opening the can of worms that could add to it’s woes and has decided to put things on hold.”The process of notifying the Bill will take time as  all aspects will have to be studied in detail before  it is done”,official sources said.The fact is that a litigational quagmire awaits it  no sooner this is done.
The Gujarat Local Authorities Laws(Amendment)Bill,2009 is essentially the brainwave of  the present Prime Minister Narendra Modi,who had then argued that it would economise the process of local self government elections  besides creating the template for exploring similar avenues for a national exercise.The Bill was  first tabled  in the State Assembly in December 2009.Interestingly ,Modi was missing  both when the Bill was being debated and later when it was being voted upon.However,he was most vocal, lashing out against the then Governor Kamala Beniwal ,for playing partisan politics(UPA was in power at the Centre).The Governor,on her part, had sent the Bill back for the Government’s re-consideration.As Modi was wont to do,he re-introduced the Bill in the State Assembly in 2010, milked it for political mileage for over an year, and then used his brute majority to get it passed on December 28,2011.Subsequently,it lay with the Governor until Modi assumed charge as Prime Minister, ignominiously shunted out Beniwal ,and the new Governor cleared it last month.
A political creature to the core,Modi had linked up compulsory voting with 50 per cent reservation for women.The then Governor  had gone on record to welcome the reservation  for women but made it clear that  compulsory voting and the provision of penalizing a voter for not doing so was against the spirit of the Constitution and the Election Commission would never agree to it.She had suggested delinking the two issues but Modi was not forthcoming and used the issue to the hilt  against the Congress and the UPA government both in the 2012 Vidhan Sabha as well as the 2014 general elections.
Compulsory elections may not hold much importance for Modi,but compulsory voting for women sure does.In fact,in a different context, the publicity conscious Prime Minister has already sent out instructions in Gujarat that the fact of heightened reservation for women in the police in Gujarat should form the subject of a major advt blitz countrywide .A hoarding campaign carrying images of Modi and the Gujarat chief minister   is expected to be launched soon.Work has already begun on it.
The then Governor had advanced  her own arguments for sending the Bill back.Her view was that it  violated Article19(1)(A) of the Constitution which guaranteed freedom of expression which also included  the right not to vote.Also ,she felt, no provision has been made regarding  the government’s duty of incorporating all eligible voters in the voter’s list, and distribution of voter’s identity card.Nor was  the penal consequences cited,that the voter will suffer  if declared a defaulter for not voting.Interestingly, a similar Bill was introduced  in Parliament by a BJP MP in 2004 but was rejected after discussion.
There are those who believe-and I do too- that such ‘luxuries’ of political thought ill suits a country  whose Prime Minister has to issue a national call on such a basic thing as cleanliness.That Gujarat , a state  which is unable to provide toilets in  5000 pre-primary schools  and is straining every nerve  grappling with such and other absolutely basic amenities,should be thinking of  compulsory voting in civic elections sounds  like an absurdity,they say.
Issues,herein,are for real.Those in Gujarat are fully aware that the bulk of it’s tribal population migrates from it’s traditional homeland to other parts of the state for livelihood  working as daily wage labourers. Does  the  popular government  expect these poverty inflicted people to travel back homewards every time  a local election takes place?Or keep returning home for penal proceedings if they fail to turn up for voting?
The Gujarat administration is hard put dealing  with the legacy of  a crowded timetable of fairs and festivals-agriculture,tourism,garib kaliyan melas,school enrolment drives,vibrant Gujarat  global investment fairs- passed down by the previous government.Where will it have the time,resources and manpower to undertake such a mammoth operation as this  one which begins from the grassroots and covers every part of the state?It  would be  better if  those in power address grassroot issues rather than spend time  building money guzzling memorials to themselves.The Mahatma Mandir in Gujarat-a convention hall built in the name of Gandhi-  costs over Rs 500 crores and the Statue of Sardar Patel,twice the size of the statue of liberty ,planned  now on,will incur an expenditure of over Rs 2000 crores.Modi wants history to remember him for these osmotic projects.The fact,however is,that toilets are the need of the hour not bullet trains costing over Rs 65,000 crores to build just to   travel from Ahmedabad to Mumbai.which costs less than a thousand rupees by high speed Duranto today!
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