Pan­chay­ati Raja?

KCR looks to sweep the state’s first pan­chayat polls, but a roll­back of reser­va­tions could hurt him

India Today - - STATES - By Amar­nath K. Menon

On Jan­uary 1, state elec­tion com­mis­sioner V. Nagi Reddy an­nounced the sched­ule for the first pan­chayat polls since the cre­ation of the state. As many as 14,952,058 ru­ral vot­ers are to cast their votes in three phases be­tween Jan­uary 21 and 30 to elect sarpanches and ward mem­bers across 12,751 gram pan­chay­ats.

Though this elec­tion is not be­ing con­tested on po­lit­i­cal party sym­bols, Te­lan­gana Rash­tra Samithi (TRS) chief K. Chan­drasekhar Rao, fresh from his assem­bly elec­tion tri­umph, views the ru­ral polls as an op­por­tu­nity to cast his party’s net wider. The chief min­is­ter’s strat­egy is to cap­i­talise on the pop­u­lar sup­port his party en­joys for a firmer grip on the lo­cal bod­ies that have a say in spend­ing ru­ral de­vel­op­ment funds. KCR wants to con­sol­i­date his party po­si­tion by hold­ing out fresh prom­ises on de­vel­op­ment is­sues. The polls are also ex­pected

to serve as the first test for his son K.T. Rama Rao, who was ap­pointed the TRS work­ing pres­i­dent after the party swept the assem­bly elec­tion.

In the last pan­chayat polls, held as part of erst­while Andhra Pradesh in 2013, the Con­gress claimed vic­tory in the dis­tricts that are now part of Te­lan­gana. The TRS won only 470 pan­chayat seats.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, the polls will also test KCR’s pop­u­lar­ity after the state gov­ern­ment re­duced reser­va­tions in the pan­chayat elec­tions from 62.5 per cent to 50 per cent, in keep­ing with the Supreme Court or­ders. Ri­val par­ties had de­manded that the enu­mer­a­tion of Back­ward Classes be com­pleted be­fore an­nounc­ing the pan­chayat polls, but KCR de­cided to com­ply with the high court di­rec­tion to hold it be­fore Jan­uary 31.

KCR’s cab­i­net, which has only a deputy CM be­sides him­self, had on De­cem­ber 16, re­duced reser­va­tions for SCs, STs and BCs through an or­di­nance. The worst af­fected were the BCs, whose share dropped from 34 to 23 per cent, though they con­sti­tute 54 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion. Te­lan­gana Con­gress chief N. Ut­tam Ku­mar Reddy says KCR chose to ig­nore reser­va­tions ac­cord­ing to pop­u­la­tion, and is re­ly­ing on an elec­toral roll where 2.2 mil­lion first-time vot­ers are miss­ing. Reddy al­leges this is to keep the Con­gress and other op­po­si­tion par­ties out. “KCR con­tin­ues to play foul,” he says.

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