“Resort politics” has spread even to the village level; a few grama panchayat members in Karnataka were reportedly taken to several places to prevent horse-trading and poaching ahead of a vote of no-confidence.
Nine members, including five women, of the Devaragudda grama panchayat in Haveri district flew from Bengaluru to Hubballi, which has the nearest airport, on Tuesday to vote for a no-confidence motion against president Malatesh Nayar, after spending 40 days outside the village. The village in Ranebennur taluk is 300km from the state capital.
They were sponsored by Santosh Bhat, who is the priest of a temple and heads its management committee. Bhat, who claims to be a social worker, said he fielded candidates in 2020 panchayat elections and that Nayar was among them. He accused Nayar of violating an agreement he had entered into when elected president.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Bhat said, “We had a concept of ‘namma ooru-namma guri’ (our town-our target) to provide better facilities. Nine of the 13 seats were won by people I had backed and Nayar was elected president. We had an agreement that the president will be in office for 15 months and other senior members will also get a chance. But Nayar was adamant on not resigning the post. He poached a member. The number was reduced to seven and two BJP-backed members offered support.”
“We have moved a no-confidence motion and the new president will be elected soon,” he said.
Asked why the panchayat members had to be sent outside, Bhat said several people were luring them. “If not for money, they would blackmail them emotionally as well. So we sent them on a tour for 40 days and they have returned to the village. Many of the members said it was their dream to travel on an aeroplane, which is why I arranged tickets for them,” he added.
A local villager who did not want to disclose his name said, “Today in the Ranebennur region, if you need to contest a grama panchayat election, you will need at least Rs 3-4 lakh, no matter how good you are as a local leader. For the president post, it would go up to Rs 7-10 lakh.”
Since Bhat is the head of the temple committee, everyone listens to him, according to the villager. “He has spent more than Rs 10 lakh for the nine members’ stay in various hotels and to bring them back,” he said.
The village has a population of about 5,000 and almost everyone knows one another.
“Karnataka politicians have stayed in resorts multiple times to topple governments or to prevent attempts to topple governments. These members have taken a cue from them. It is sad that our village has been in the news for wrong reasons,” he added.
Asked how much he had spent for the nine members, Bhat said they had travelled mainly to religious places like Dharmasthala, Subramanya and Mysuru and later reached Bengaluru.