Congress in dilemma over local body elections (Andhra Pradesh Newsletter)
Hyderabad, Sep 8 (IANS) The Congress government in Andhra Pradesh finds itself in a dilemma over local body elections with the state high court ruling this week that the quantum of reservations should not exceed 50 percent.
With the opposition Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the YSR Congress Party going all out to woo the backward classes, the ruling Congress does not want to antagonise this section of society by implementing the high court order, which means cutting down the backward classes reservation from 34 percent to 24 percent.
With the opposition and backward classes groups warning the government against diluting the reservation, the government is considering two options: challenge the high court order in the Supreme Court or seek a constitution amendment to exceed the 50 percent limit, as in Tamil Nadu.
With one and a half years left for the assembly elections, the ruling party is keen to project itself as the champion of the backward classes. However, considering that either of the two measures will take time, the Congress faces the risk of losing an opportunity to strengthen and galvanise its cadre before the big test of 2014.
The high court on Sep 4 directed the State Election Commission to conduct polls within three months after receiving the report from the state government on the total percentage of reservation.
Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy was quick to react, saying that the government was ready to hold local body elections any time. He however changed his stance after criticism from backward class leaders of his own party.
In the 2006 elections to 22 zilla parishads, 1,097 mandal parishads and 21,807 gram panchayats, the state had provided 60.55 percent reservations: 18.30 percent to the schedules castes, 8.25 percent to the scheduled tribes and 34 percent to the backward classes.
Riding on the popularity of then chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, the Congress had swept the polls.
The term of the local bodies ended last year and since they are governed by special officers, the high court passed the order on petitions challenging the appointment of the special officers.
Since the government can't disturb the statutory quota for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, it will have to cut down on reservations for backward classes to implement the high court order.
Kiran Reddy may be hoping that the Congress repeats its 2006 performance in local body elections, but a section of state party leaders don't see bright prospects in view of the results of the recent assembly by-elections and the strong Telangana sentiment. In the by-elections held in June, the YSR Congress won 15 of the 18 assembly seats.
The Congress government is already under criticism from the opposition for delaying local body polls since July last year. Political analysts say the ruling party is reluctant to face elections because of the Telangana issue and the rise of the YSR Congress.
"The ball is in the government's court. It can approach the Supreme Court or convince the high court of the need to have over 50 percent reservation by conducting a socio-economic survey on a scientific basis," said TDP leader R. Chandrasekhar Reddy.
"It is the TDP which provided one-third reservation to backward classes and this should be protected at any cost," he told IANS. He feels the government failed to effectively argue its case for maintaining 34 percent reservations for backward classes.
The opposition party alleged that the delay in conducting the local body elections was affecting the people. "There is one special officer for five to 10 villages. There is no money or material to address people's problems like seasonal diseases and sanitation," Chandrasekhar Reddy said.
(Mohammed Shafeeq can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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