During its first year in office, the Kamal Nath government has taken a series of legislative and administrative measures aimed at helping the Congress reestablish its political base that been eroded during the 15-year BJP rule between 2003 and 2018.
The Congress government, which enjoys only a wafer-thin majority in the Assembly, succeeded in passing Bills related to holding indirect elections for the posts of mayor and chairmen of urban local bodies and also getting a say in the appointment of vice-chancellors in different universities.
Currently, direct elections are held for the posts of mayors and chairmen of urban bodies. The BJP won all 16 mayoral elections and held a majority of posts of chairmen of nagarpalikas and nagar parishads (municipal councils). Now, the councilors will elect one person among them as mayor or chairman, an arrangement that gives the ruling party more say because the councillors are not bound by party whip, unlike in Assemblies. Simultaneously, the government, using its administrative power, recently appointed administrators in 18 local bodies instead of holding elections when their term ended.
Alleging that the procedure was changed because the ruling party fears that it can’t win direct elections, the BJP has accused the government of making the elections for the posts of mayor and chairman vulnerable to horse trading and other manipulation. The BJP alleges that the ruling party will influence the councillors’ decision-making by misusing the administration.
The government has justified the change, saying there is a lack of coordination between a directly elected mayor/chairman and councillors which affects decision making and development of cities and towns. In the direct election system, it was not uncommon to have a one-party majority in the board and the directly-elected mayor belonging to a rival party.
In the last Assembly session, the government amended the Madhya Pradesh Universities (Second Amendment), 1973, to arm itself with power to nominate one person on the three-member search committee for the appointment of vice-chancellors. The state government justified the amendment by saying that it makes the policy for successful conduct of universities, provides finances and is directly responsible to the public in university-related matters but has no role in appointing the vice-chancellor. The Opposition BJP has accused the Congress government of curtailing the powers of the Governor.
In keeping with its policy to shed the pro-minority and anti-majority image, the Congress also brought a new law to manage administration of all major temples, including Ujjain’s Mahakales-hwar, Maihar’s Ma Sharda, Indore’s Ganesh Mandir and Salkanpur Devi Mandir. The separate laws governing some of these temples will now be replaced by a common law that allows the government to appoint “special invitees” on the management committees.
Law Minister P C Sharma argued that the law was not brought for political reasons but for better management of big temples and to provide more facilities to devotees who throng in large numbers on special occasions.
BJP spokesman Rajnish Agrawal said it’s anybody’s guess that the new appointments, including that of pujaris, will be influenced by ideology. He said that previously, trusts enjoyed a degree of autonomy. He admitted that the BJP can counter the measures taken by the government to increase its base only up to a point because the Congress is in power and legislates on different issues.
The Congress has also initiated the move to have Vidhan Parishad in the state. The Congress had promised the second house in all its Assembly manifestos but now that it has wrested power after a decade and a half it’s pursuing the idea seriously because the bicameral system will allow it to nominate more persons.
The Kamal Nath government also moved a Bill to amend the Madhya Pradesh District Planning Committee Act, 1965, to increase the committee membership to 20 from the existing 10 or 15. The government will be able to appoint two “prominent persons” from the district. Justifying the amendment, Finance Minister Tarun Bhanot said the government wants to bring expertise to the committee and decentralise power at the district level.
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