Following a Supreme Court directive to the State to conduct rural local body polls in nine districts by September this year, the DMK government, fresh from their recent electoral triumph, has gone ahead to announce the conduct of urban local body polls too, hoping to ride on the government’s success in its handling in COVID-19 crisis and implementing populist schemes.
While the term of the last urban and rural local bodies ended way back in 2016 and fresh elections were scheduled to be held in October 2016, the DMK, which was in the opposition then, moved the Madras High Court, sought and obtained a stay on the polls claiming that political parties were not given sufficient time to prepare for the polls resulting in an undue advantage for the ruling AIADMK. In 2017, the elections were further delayed after the State Legislative Assembly adopted amendment bills for setting up a panel to recommend delimitation of wards in local bodies of newly formed districts and to suggest appropriate quota for women, SC and ST candidates to the State Election Commission. The SEC also brought out a notification on the issue.
Again in 2019, the DMK moved the Supreme Court against the State Election Commission claiming that the notification on grant of quota for women, SC and ST candidates were not based on the latest census following which elections to nine districts were stalled again but polls were held for remaining rural local bodies. The SEC, which planned to conduct urban local body polls along with the nine district polls, had since been deferring the elections citing the pandemic.
Against this backdrop, Nehru’s announcement poses the crucial question: Is the pandemic situation in the state conducive to the conduct of another poll or would it merely serve as a catalyst for a third wave? It is common knowledge by now that the catastrophic rise in COVID-19 cases during April and May in TN this year had been a direct result of the pompous Assembly poll campaigns conducted by all major parties when top leaders and thousands of cadres were seen parading on streets, roads and highways across the state violating all COVID-19 SOPs and throwing caution to the wind to garner votes. The horrific days and weeks since April 6 stand testimony to the disastrous decision of the Election Commission of India to conduct polls even as a devastating second wave of COVID-19 infections were crippling the country.
The DMK government that assumed charge during the peak of the wave has done well to bring the situation under control within weeks. But would they squander all the hard work and goodwill they earned so far by holding yet another poll where the party cadre has no choice but to take up massive door-to-door campaigns, organise meetings and processions, which could all be super-spreader events?
The state, which has been consulting medical experts and stakeholders every week on extending lockdowns should follow the same logic in conducting local body polls. Voters who have waited for five years to elect their local representatives wouldn’t certainly mind a few more months, at least until all citizens are fully vaccinated, before setting out to vote.