ASHA PARIVAR PLAYS A POSITIVE ROLE DURING ELECTIONS

ASHA PARIVAR PLAYS A POSITIVE ROLE DURING ELECTIONS

The panchayat elections have just gotten over in U.P. Because of Asha Parivar's role in the right to information campaign first in Hardoi district and then in Varanasi district, where information related to income and expenditure of funds coming to village panchayats under various heads and schemes were demanded by the people of these villages, it was quite natural that when it came time to re-elect the pradhans (heads of elected village committees whichare responsible for undertaking development works as well as for selecting beneficiaries for various schemes of the government) volunteers of Asha Parivar would be playing an important role. In addition to people who were part of the right to information campaign who wanted to contest the elections there were others, who did not participate in the campaign but were interested in Asha Ashram endorsing their candidature as it would improve their standing in theeyes of the electorate. The aspirants were asked to commit themselves to transparency and accountability, honesty and not using any illegitimate means during their campaign. Dalit volunteers associated with Asha Parivar were really enthusiastic as they could take on the more powerful vested interests due to certain immunity arising out from their association with the Ashram. Rajeshwari, Baijnath's wife, was a candidate from Jamunipur, Sajiwan's mother Ramkali was a candidate from Purwa Maan and Neelkamal and Guddu had put in everything to ensure that Harkaran Nath Dwivedi, who had been a proxy pradhan in the name of his dalit servant, was defeated in Sikroriha. Meanwhile, Keshav and Jaishankar, volunteers who were not natives of Hardoi, were overseeing the entire two blocks of Bharawan and Sandila to campaign for candidates with cleaner images. Women candidates were clearly told that they would have to campaign for themselves without letting their husbands dominate.For the first time Asha Ashram volunteers campaigned in their work area and asked people to vote for candidates supported by the Ashram. There were candidates - corrupt, feudal, criminal - whom the Ashram was opposing and they did not like it. They did everything to foil Ashram's campaign for a cleaner politics. Voter rolls were tampered with, code of conduct for campaigning were violated. Whenever, people brought any of these discrepancies to the notice of the Asha volunteers, the District website 'Lokvani' would be used to lodge a complaint and the District Magistrate would be informed. The present DM Abhishek Singh took prompt action in most of the cases to rectify the situation. People feared booth capturing and rigging on the polling day. However, Asha Parivaar volunteers Keshav and Jaishankar moving around on their motorcycle in the area of influence of the Ashram keeping a close watch on the proceedings and with the cooperation of District authorities and the local Police Station ensured that there was no bungling. Similarly, during counting, which is another stage where things could be rigged, vigilant Asha volunteers ensured that powerful vested interests did not have their way. The results were announced. Most of the candidates directly associated with the Ashram lost. However, there were about ten pradhans in Hardoi District and another 4-5 in Varanasi who said they would like to work with the Ashram. Mukesh, an active volunteer at Mehdiganj working with Nandlal's anti-Coca Cola movement, was the new pradhan of Village Panchayat Nagepur. He happens to the youngest pradhan in Varanasi district. A ceremony was organized at Asha Ashram, Lalpur on 20th September, 2005 with about 200 people attending including the DM, where several pradhans and panchayat members from Hardoi, Varanasi, Chitrakoot, Ballia, Deoria and Rae Bareli participated in a workshop for better governance and took an oath of 'office and transparency' as opposed to the oath of 'office and secrecy' delivered for any public office. The pradhans and members of panchayats attending this meeting committed themselves to (1) taking all decisions in open meetings of the panchayat, (2) keeping all their financial accounts transparent and all important information public, (3) not pay or accept a bribe, (4) not keep a weapon for their security, and (5) not take their decisions influenced by caste considerations except when there is a reservation for a certain caste community. The women pradhans and members took an additional , oath of not letting their husbands or any other male member of the community run the show for them. A similar exercise was reapeated for more pradhans and members only from Varanasi District at Nandlal's Ashram in Mehdiganj on 28th September, 2005. This meeting was attended by the Member of Parliament from Varanasi, Rajesh Mishra, belonging to the Congress Party. Rajesh Mishra, on this occasion also committed that he would support the people's campaign for rights over water resources against the Coca Cola bottling plant. Fortunately, both the Village Panchayats containing the bottling plants in Mehdiganj, Varanasi and Sinhachawar, Ballia now have pradhans who are supporters of the anti-Coca Cola movement. The pradhan at Ballia, Chinta Devi attended the ceremony at Hardoi on 20th September and she has already declared her intentions of taking on the company. Asha Parivar may not have returned a number of candidates as pradhans or members but put up tough battle for opponents. But the awareness created by the campaign for right to information had a definite role in fair polling and counting of votes. A cooperative DM obviously was a big help. So, the campaign of Asha Parivar for empowerment of people continues and Asha volunteers and members of the Parivar settle down to ensuring transparent and good governance in panchayats, whether the pradhans are sympathetic to the Ashram or not.By Sandeep

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