Friday, May 12, 2006

Expensive Elections

The Assembly polls for 824 seats in four States and a Union Territory turned out to be a very expensive affair, literally. They are estimated to have cost the nation a whopping Rs.2,000 crore. Political insiders have also estimated that an average of Rs. 2 crore was spent in each constituency. Calculated on this basis, the amount which the mainstream political parties spent on these elections crossed Rs.2,000 crore. The poll expenses in West Bengal and Pondicherry were comparatively less than what was spent in Tamil Nadu, Assam and Kerala. Significantly, 90 per cent of the estimated expenditure has been spent by the candidates of two or three major political parties. According to the Election Commission norms, maximum poll expenses per candidate for the bigger States is Rs.10 lakh and for UTs like Pondicherry Rs.5 lakh.

Mulayam another "Vikas Purush"

UP's Chief Minister and Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav has fired his first salvo for the State Assembly poll about eight months away. He has embarked on a publicity blitzkrieg: full-page advertisements in leading newspapers, projecting him as a "Vikas Purush" and his Government as the champion of development. This is very much like what the Vajpayee Government did for itself prior to the Lok Sabha poll in 2004. Mulayam Singh has pledged in these advertisements to make Uttar Pradesh an "Uttam Pradesh", a "model State" to win friends and influence public opinion. Attention is particularly focused on his Government's approval for 7,000 MW of power projects in the next six years, electrification of about 6,000 villages and improvements in such areas as agriculture, infrastructure, drinking water, health and education.

Crackdown on Naxals

Now that the State elections are over, the Union Government has finalized re-deployment of Central para-military forces tied up with the polling exercise. All the 772 Companies of the Central para-military forces spared for the poll duty are being moved to Chhattisgarh, to enable intensified counter-offensive against the Naxalites who have made the new State their latest target. The plan is to undertake a joint offensive by the Central forces and the State police, using helicopters to para-drop the personnel into the heavily forested Naxal hideouts. The Union Home Ministry has also decided to set up a dedicated anti-Naxal cell to coordinate intelligence, development outreaches and implementation of policies to check the rising Naxal menace, which has now enveloped 15 States.

Telangana remains elusive

Statehood for Telangana remains elusive as ever. Clearly, the Congress, which leads the UPA Government at the Centre and rules Andhra Pradesh, is in no hurry to oblige the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS). Nor does it seem to be keen to expedite the Pranab Mukherjee Committee report on the Statehood demand, notwithstanding frequent deadlines set by the TRS and its chief, Chandrasekhar Rao, now the Union Labour Minister. Chief Minister Rajasekhara Reddy too is evidently opposed to the creation of Telangana. He maintains that the demand for a separate State was the result of the neglect by the earlier Governments. But now that his Government has launched several development programmes for the backward region, there is no need for a separate Telangana.

Andolan agaisnt Supreme Court

The Narmada Bachao Andolan, led by Medha Patkar and supported by several NGOs and celebrities, is getting curiouser and curiouser. It has now turned its agitation against the Supreme Court's order last week, allowing continuation of the construction of the Sardar Sarovar project across the river Narmada in Gujarat. Patkar organized a sit-in outside the Court, describing the order as "injustice" to the people displaced due to the dam - and subsequently by raising of its height. Patkar has vowed afresh to continue her agitation. She now accuses the Centre of making a "mockery" of the rehabilitation of the project-affected families.

-INFA

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