Last week, the Maharashtra cabinet approved a proposal for direct election of the village sarpanch, the head of the gram panchayat. Earlier, the sarpanchwas elected indirectly, by elected representatives.
- The centralization of governance in postcolonial India is also at variance with the long history of local self-governments coexisting with ancient kingdoms.
- Currently, the head of the municipal corporation, the mayor, is merely a ceremonial authority and executive decisions are carried out by the municipal commissioner appointed by the state government.
The direct elections for the posts of sarpanch and municipal council president need to be extended to municipal corporations that govern larger urban areas.India needs directly elected and empowered mayors for all its big cities.
Case for directly elected mayors
It helps in the construction of central leadership. Several countries have successful mayors go on to head national governments. For instance,
- the current presidents of Indonesia and Turkey—Joko Widodo and RecepTayyipErdoğan—had previously served as mayors of Solo and Istanbul, respectively.
- Both Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji were mayors of Shanghai before reaching the highest echelons of Chinese national politics.
- While Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel honed their administrative skills as mayors of Allahabad and Ahmedabad, Subhas Chandra Bose served as the chief executive officer of the Calcutta Corporation before stepping into the role of Calcutta’s mayor.
Directly Elected Mayors | Challenges
- The state governments do not want to let go of their powers. The resources generated from the cities are used to lubricate the political economies in rural areas.
- The structures of local government created by the 73rd and 74th amendments did not go far enough; the resources and the powers continue to be vested with the state governments, which have been reluctant to delegate them.
- Another issue is the short tenure of mayors in many states. For instance, the BMC mayor’s tenure is two-and-a-half years—hardly enough to create lasting changes in a large metropolis. Sometimes, directly elected mayors run into corporations dominated by members of rival political parties. This leads to snags in day-to-day governance.
- Since power lies largely with state and Central governments, the new dynasts that proliferate in Indian politics also prefer the parliamentary and legislative bastions controlled for generations rather than proving their mettle by transforming a city.
Directly Elected Mayors | Way forward
A solution can be founded in a private member Bill that was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Congress parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor last year. Tharoor’s Bill on direct elections for mayors included a provision for a mayor-in-council that would be nominated by the directly elected mayor. Such a council, with an executive role, has existed in Kolkata and has performed reasonably well.
Directly Elected Mayors | Conclusion
The excessive fear of fragmentation in a newly independent India led to a reluctant federation and a dirigiste economy. While the pace of economic liberalization remains slow, the decentralization of administration has been slower. It is high time for corrective steps.