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The conduct of local body elections is an indication of how powerful the governance bodies really are. In Tamil Nadu, many functions that are vested with local bodies in other states such as water and sewage come under the purview of state government agencies. The two Dravidian parties opposed the three tier Panchayati Raj Act brought in by the Rajiv Gandhi government. Their record in decentralizing to local bodies has not been exemplary especially when compared to Karnataka and Kerala.

Local body elections in Tamil Nadu are therefore a sideshow. The ruling party has much greater official say in it than in the Assembly or Lok Sabha elections. The state election commission is not quite the beast that the central one can be. The rules lag behind state and Lok Sabha ones, and the state government can change them to suit its interests.

The None Of The Above option, for instance, is not available in the local body elections. In the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, NOTA has become not just a show of voter protest but also, in a way, an indication of the strength of candidates and parties. NOTA can humiliate them. Anyone getting fewer than NOTA votes should better quit politics and do some good. Some argue that NOTA is a meaningless option. If you don’t like any of the candidates, why not just not vote? But coming out and actually voting NOTA sends a strong signal to parties. Studies, however, have shown that those who exercise that option are often not doing it out of such lofty principles. They often invalidate their votes so that they don’t go to the caste or religious group that they don’t like. Nevertheless, not having NOTA in local body polls makes the exercise a tad less democratic.

NOTA is just one case of how different local body polls are from assembly polls and Lok Sabha polls. Further, the government can decide if it wants to make the polls party-less so they don’t become a test of their grassroots support. The government can play around with rules regarding the mayor election as it has done now. What’s more, the anti-defection law doesn’t apply to local bodies. This could mean open season starting from the day of results next week. If no one gets a clear majority in any corporation, councillors can turn uber rich by crossing over and voting for the mayoral candidate offering more money.

We will soon see if that happens in any of the cities.

NOTA Memes
NOTA Memes
NOTA memes

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