Hyderabad: Are unanimous elections in local bodies an indication of consensus among the people or the unprecedented violence perpetrated by the party in power to prevent others from filing nominations? The Andhra Pradesh local body elections have witnessed unprecedented violence, police inaction, the arrest of the Leader of the Opposition, and admonition by the High Court. The State Election Commissioner (SEC) took a sensational decision to postpone the local elections and transfer officials, which was approved by the Supreme Court.

The violent state of affairs in AP was sadly reflected in the letter from state election commissioner N. Ramesh Kumar to Union Home Secretary on 18 March. The gravity of the situation could be gauged by the fact that the election commissioner himself is pleading to the Centre to protect his life and his family from attacks by the ruling party.

Courts come to rescue

First, the AP High Court has admonished the government over law and order and in a week, the SEC got relief from the Supreme Court which vindicated his authority to postpone elections on the ground of Coronavirus. However, it advised the SEC to consult with the state and finalise the election dates. On the plea that many developmental activities have been suspended due to the imposition of the model code of conduct (MCC), the SC directed the MCC be revoked though it could reimpose it four weeks before the notified date of the polls. The SC also advised the government to continue the measures in place to curb the spread of the virus but consult the SEC before taking up any new developmental activities.

Another vindication for the SEC was the validation of his order to transfer police and revenue officials of several districts, which was subjected to severe criticism by the government and ruling party leaders.

High Court’s admonition

Andhra Pradesh High Court on 12 March pulled up DGP Gautam Sawang. The CJ of AP read out Section 151 of the CrPC to the DGP, which says, “A police officer knowing of a design to commit any cognizable offense may arrest, without orders from a magistrate and without a warrant, the person so designing, if it appears to such officer that the commission of the offense cannot be otherwise prevented.” The HC also questioned why he did not take disciplinary action against Vishakhapatnam police officers who violated the law by illegal detaining TDP president Chandrababu Naidu. The court warned, “If you don’t take action which you are supposed to, we will take action.”

A march of over 500 police personnel in a village to curb protests against the moving of the state capital also came under serious admonition from the High Court which asked, “Why such acts in a democracy?”

The election commissioner perceived a threat to his life after verbal assaults and the threat of physical attacks, which he explained in a five-page letter to the Home secretary. He explained the violence and abusive language of ruling party members against him and sought protection by Central forces.

The poll violence

The local body elections, which were to be completed in three phases by 31 March, were vitiated with widespread violence during the first phase of nominations. Several TDP leaders, including an advocate, were attacked with iron rods and wooden logs, and many were injured. Ruling party men chased Opposition leaders who visited the place after hearing that YSRCP activists were not allowing local TDP candidates to file nominations. Such violence is reported at least in three districts, where TDP men were physically assaulted because they tried to contest despite the advice of YSRCP men. There were also allegations that TDP candidates were arrested in false cases to prevent them from filing nominations. At another place, the nomination papers of a TDP leader were snatched away.

The SEC has justified his orders to transfer the collectors of two districts, two SPs, two deputy SPs, and three circle inspectors besides suspending a CI for gross failure and complicity after there was only a single valid nomination in majority wards due to violence. But these transfers were not given effect because of the pendency of litigation.

The SEC wrote: “The stage one of the elections itself witnessed unprecedented violence and intimidation by the ruling party with the active connivance of police personnel as alleged by all the Opposition parties, big and small, in one voice. There were about 35 incidents of prevention of nominations, 23 incidents of forceful withdrawals, and 55 instances of violence targeting the principal Opposition parties, i.e. the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party-Janasena. The norms of peaceful and orderly conduct of elections were completely vitiated.”

As evidence, the SEC furnished data of “unanimous” elections of MPTC members where 2,362 out of 9,696 (24%) were unanimously elected. The number was 346 out of 1,6548 (2%) in 2014. There is a huge increase in unanimous elections of ZPTC members also which increased from 0.09 per cent to 19 per cent. The SEC pointed out that in Kadapa district, where Chief Minister Jagan hails from, 79 per cent of MPTC members and 76 per cent of ZPTC members were elected “unanimously”, resulting in the ruling YSRCP winning the Zilla Parishad even before a single vote was cast. The SEC also suspected a game by the ruling party to organise 70 per cent unanimous elections in the last phase of the gram panchayat elections fought on non-party lines.

Draconian Ordinance

The SEC pointed out that a draconian ordinance was brought in recently to imprison candidates for up to three years and impose fine up to Rs. 10,000 in addition to disqualification if they were found harbouring inducements of liquor and money. Mr Ramesh Kumar mentioned that cases have come to light where ruling party goons have planted liquor at the homes of Opposition candidates, leading the police to arrest them.

CM abuses SEC

Mr Ramesh Kumar, in his letter, explained how the CM had attacked him and used offensive language, casting aspersions and prejudice, which was followed by his Cabinet ministers and even the Speaker of the Assembly heaping the choicest abuses and attributing mala fide to him. The abusive attacks continued with MLAs and others joining in, mouthing the most unbecoming and uncouth utterances against him.

SEC seeks protection

Despite the judgements of the Supreme Court and the AP High Court empowering him, the SEC wrote that he had been receiving repeated warnings and threats to demoralize him and force him to reverse his actions. Mr Ramesh Kumar finds it a testing time beset with challenges and acrimony as the government lacks the grace to treat Constitutional bodies with due dignity and deference. He wrote: “Needless to say, the stakes are very high for the ruling party to intimidate, coerce me, and bring me around forcibly to do their bidding, which I am not prepared to do under any circumstances.” He explained that he would not dare venture outside without full protection and that he and his family would be completely vulnerable after the elections were over. He expressed doubts that the state police protection was not equal to the threats he was facing, which include physical attacks, which could be realized because of the intolerance of the leaders and their vindictive nature. He listed the causes and sought security for an extended duration beyond the elections.

M Sridhar Acharyulu

Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu was the Central Information Commissioner (2013-18) of Union of India, who delivered thousands of landmark judgments on Right to Information. Earlier, Madabhushi Sridhar served as Professor and Registrar at NALSAR University, Hyderabad . With double post-graduate degrees (LLM & MCJ) Ph.D. and LL.D., Sridhar continues as a columnist on socio-political happenings and policies of the state. He has written and published 40 books on Law and Journalism in both Telugu and English, 100 plus research articles and thousands of newspaper articles. Sridhar anchored a live phone-in TV weekly program to answer doubts on land records in 60 episodes of a TV channel in Hyderabad.

One comment on "Violence behind ‘unanimous’ AP local elections"

  • Your argumentation is biased; same is the case with SEC’s action. This is clear from the castigated observations made by the Chief Justice of India & judge of the Bench of Supreme Court while upholding the rights of SEC on election [court has not said anything on the ongoing elections]. Don’t you think it is the correct process to consult the government on the issue of postponing the ongoing elections?
    It is clear that SEC favoured Chandrababu: SEC put the blame on Virus but why SEC did not gave any order to stop people doing the following:
    • In Amaravathi, TDP protesters are living on the roads since several days and now continuing. They are cooking on the roads, eating on the roads, sleeping on the roads, taking bath on the roads. Practically they are living under un-hygienic condition. EC may be thinking “No” Virus problem to them;
    • Religious & marriage activities are going on as usual – temples, churches, mosques are open to public;
    • Agriculture, horticulture, dairy activities are going on as usual;
    • Offices [government & private], markets, shops-malls, etc. are going on as usual;
    • People are travelling as usual;
    When all the activities are going on as usual, why local body elections were stopped by the EC under the pretext of virus? This virus has no impact on all those activities?
    You raised the unanimous: You argued as evidence that MPTC members where 2,362 out of 9,696 (24%) were unanimously elected; the number was 346 out of 1,6548 (2%) in 2014. There is a huge increase in unanimous elections of ZPTC members also which increased from 0.09 per cent to 19 per cent — in Kadapa district, 79 per cent of MPTC members and 76 per cent of ZPTC members were elected “unanimously”, resulting in the ruling YSRCP winning the Zilla Parishad even before a single vote was cast. What was the vote share of TDP+BJP+JS combine and YSRC in 2014 & 2019 general election? Is it not reflecting unanimous elected numbers?
    You raised violence, TDP filed nominations as much as YSRCP –, just few months back YSRCP won 151 MLAs out of 175 while the elections were carried out under TDP government [acting] even with severe violence’s. Before the 2019 general elections, the local body elections & rural banks elections. Police & beaurocrats physically acted as TDP work force and forced the people elected on YSRCP to join TDP – this is clearly evident in the drama enacted with Prakasham district Zilla Parishad. Kadapa elections – Jagan got the heights majority in India, don’t you think it must reflect in unanimous elections???
    You talk of judiciary – though the judiciary is one of the four pillars of the Indian constitution, it is no difference from other three pillars with reference to corruption. The 2014 reports in media high lights how our judiciary is functioning starting from their recruitment. Here the major issue is even after retirement they enjoy power. In fact, I think, this issue started with my letter to the Chief Justice of India with a copy to the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh on 11th February 2013. In this I raised three issues namely, not before me, quid-pro-co and collegiums system. Former two are illogical and are used to manipulate justice. In Andhra Pradesh to destroy rivals or to protect the criminals/corrupt politicians these two clauses were/are used invariably. The misuses of these two clauses are more hazardous than corruption. Justice is rarely achieved with a such a system. Unfortunately in the recruitment of judges there is no independent body like UPSC and thus lacking integrity. Majority of judges belong to particular industrial/business/political groups as they are behind their appointment/recruitments. After my letter, to CJi/ and PM, law ministry organized a meeting with CMs, judges along with PM. CMs favoured UPSC as suggested by me but judges disagreed. However, government brought out National Judicial Appointment Commission [NJAC] Act, 2014 in place of existing collegiums system [notified on April 15, 2015]. They Supreme Court judges rejected this. As an environmental activist I have [filed PILs] seen how the AP High Court Judges affiliated to TDP used to act. They even dump the Supreme Court Judgment to favour their mentors. Even CBI used quid-pro-co without understanding the basics and showers favours to Chandrababu and acts on Jagan with AP High Court order, Why?—–!!!.

    I openly wrote to the government deploring three capitals — though both Amaravati by TDP and Vijag by YSRCP wanted use for real estate.

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

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