Odisha Panchayat Polls: Villages’ First Brush with Democracy

Odisha Panchayat Polls: Villages’ First Brush with Democracy

Odisha Panchayat Polls: Villages’ First Brush with Democracy

As Odisha gears up for the Panchayat polls, a few villages in the state are witnessing the local elections for the first time. We look at how three villages are dealing with the severance of this tradition.

Ganjam: For the last few weeks the villagers of Chikrada Gram Panchayat, under Rangeilunda block in Odisha’s Ganjam district, were shocked to see the numerous posters, banners and leaflets adorning the walls of their village, and shocked to realise that the 30-year-old decision-making process of the village committee had failed for the first time.

Chikrada Gram Panchayat was carved out from Randha Gram Panchayat in 1992 and since then a village committee had been at the helm of its affairs – taking decisions on anything and everything – from elections to development affairs of the area.

This time due to interference from political parties, more residents have sought tickets to contest the elections. Thereby discussions remained inconclusive.

“The village committee used to unanimously decide on the sarpanch and ward members and the entire village would abide by their decision. This had become a sort of tradition in the area. Unfortunately, this time we couldn’t reach a conclusion on the candidates and since the nomination filing date was also approaching, we had to agree to hold elections,” said Mamata Mohanty, President of the Village Committee.

Like earlier, a meeting was convened to discuss the names of the local representatives. However, disagreements led to conclusion. A second meeting, which was held a couple of days later, also ended in a deadlock.

“Some youths objected to the discussions which led to disagreements. We tried to resolve it but had to give in after the discussions reached an impasse. We are extremely upset to break the tradition, but we had no choice,” Mohanty said.

The village is experiencing the election process for the first time in 30 years. “I have never seen such posters, banners and campaigning in my village. This feels like an utsav (festival),” says a 52-year old resident.

The Indian Constitution implies an electoral process in selecting public representatives, however, many villages unanimously select their leaders, saving the poll expenses. The villages are given incentives of a few thousand rupees to carry out the process. 

The residents looked at the absence of elections as a means of maintaining peace and brotherhood in the area, instead of disrespect to democracy.

“The tradition was more about unity among people. The village committee’s decision was always respected. It is unfortunate to break away from the tradition but we hope the unity of the people stays intact. We hope the elected representatives will focus on the development of the village,” the President said. 

Two States' Land - Jumdang Village

In the interior pockets of the Maoist-infested Malkangiri district, Jumdang village will also cast its vote for the first time in Odisha.

The village is situated on the Odisha-Andhra Pradesh border and is a subject of dispute among the two states. Residents in the area have two voter ID and Aadhar cards—one for each state.

Jumdang village is at the border of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. After voting as residents of Andhra Pradesh for some time now, they will be casting votes in Odisha for the first time during these Panchayat Polls.

For years now, the villagers had been casting their vote as residents of Andhra Pradesh. “They (Andhra administration) have provided us with ration cards, drinking water, electricity and schools. So, we used to get involved in every voting process of Andhra Pradesh,” a villager was quoted as saying. 

This time, however, the Odisha government has facilitated road connectivity in the village. This has made access to essentials easier—especially for medical needs and necessities, prompting the villagers to swing in favour Odisha. They have promised to vote in the Panchayat polls this time. 

Democracy made accessible - Nagada Village

In 2017, Nagada village in Odisha’s Jajpur had become the face of malnutrition when reports and photographs of stunted children made headlines. The village, which is situated on a hilly terrain, was difficult to access and development had eluded the area completely.

Inaccessibility played a major factor coupled with lack of awareness among the people for conducting elections. The residents of this area are mostly from the Juang community, which falls under the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs).

Till 2019, a report says the residents had to trek for approximately 10 kms to cast their votes in the state and general elections. This led to no show by most of the villagers, especially the elderly. The nearest polling booth was at Deogaon school, which could be reached only after a treacherous trek through the hilly terrain. Though a motorable road was constructed post 2017, there were no polling booths in the area and the people were expected to visit Deogaon for casting their votes.

This time, however, a polling booth has been set up in the village itself, making the process easy for the 200-odd voters.  

"The polling booth has been set up at the Project Primary school in our area. So, we don't have to commute anymore and can easily exercise our franchise. I am a first time voter and excited for taking part in the election process," said Desa Pradhan, a resident of Nagada. 

The Panchayat elections in Odisha began on February 16 and will end on February 24, 2022.

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