Hyderabad: Nothing but the fear of defeat is making the ruling Congress in Andhra Pradesh shy away from holding elections to Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) and Panchayat Raj Institutions (PRIs) for several months now.
The term of elected councils in ULBs ended way back in September 2010 while that of PRIs expired in August 2011.
Since then, they are being run by "Special Officers", with an extension every six months, in total violation of the provisions of Constitution 73 and 74 Amendment Acts.
That the eight-year-old Congress government has been facing a strong anti-incumbency is no news. Barring the two seats in last month`s by-elections to the state Assembly, the Congress did not register a single victory in successive by-polls in the last two years.
The ruling party has been reduced to a naught in the Telangana region because of its indecisiveness on the statehood issue and the scene is no different even in Andhra-Rayalseema regions as well.
If it brought the ULBs under the Special Officers` rule, immediately after their term expired in September 2010, due to the Telangana factor, the spectre of the infant YSR Congress prevented it from holding the elections in the later period.
Same was the case with the PRIs.
History also suggests that the Congress never performed greatly in the elections to local bodies in the state and it employed dubious tactics like holding indirect election for the posts of Mayor\Municipal Chairperson and mandal and Zilla Parishad chairperson.
In 2005, for example, the Congress "captured" power in many ULBs only with the help of its MPs and MLAs, who are ex-officio members of the respective councils, though it didn`t win majority of the seats. Same was the case in many Zilla Parishads in 2006.
The Congress is taking cover under an ongoing litigation in court on the reservation of seats for backward classes in the local bodies to inordinately defer the elections.
Time and again, though, Chief Minister Kiran Kumar
Reddy, Municipal Minister M Maheedhar Reddy and Pradesh Congress Committee president Botsa Satyanarayana have been claiming that the government was "ready" to conduct elections "at the earliest" but the day appears to be too distant yet.
Having tasted public ire in the recent by-elections, the Congress is clearly on the back-foot now and apparently reluctant to venture into the electoral battlefield anytime soon.
"The Congress simply lacks the guts to face the people and that`s the prime reason for it to put off the elections to local bodies on one pretext or the other. Besides, the state government wants to wield its authority on the local bodies and clandestinely push through the reforms agenda through the Special Officers, which would not be possible if elected councils are in place," CPM state leader Ch Babu Rao, who looks after ULBs` issues said.
The Congress, which takes pride in having brought in the 73 and 74 amendments, was blatantly violating the same Constitution by not conducting elections to both urban and rural local bodies, Babu Rao lashed out.
"There is no governance in both ULBs and PRIs because of which people are facing immense hardship," the CPM leader pointed out.
The immediate fallout of the non-conduct of elections to local bodies is the stoppage of statutory grants to the state by the Government of India. The Centre would not release the grants unless the local bodies have elected councils in place.
With both the ULBs and the PRIs having no elected councils, a sum of over Rs 1,500 crore has been withheld by the Centre for the last few quarters, official sources said.
That`s a huge deficit for the state government which is selling its securities every month to run the show despite boasting of a Rs 1.30 lakh crore budget.