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Vol. XXXI No. 14, November 1-15, 2021

Corporation elections, at long last

by The Editor

Finally, there are signs that the elections to the city’s corporation will be held. If reports in the newspapers are to be believed, the Greater Chennai Corporation has begun work to ensure that the elections to the office of Mayor and also that of 200 councillors will happen by January 2022 or so. Though a formal announcement to this effect has not been made, the preparations are already under way – the polling stations are being checked for suitability, especially in the light of the pandemic. In addition, the revised electoral list is being worked upon. Nodal officers to fulfil various tasks leading up to the polls have already been assigned. If the polls go as per plan, we should have an elected council in place by February 2022 at the latest.

Our city’s Corporation, holding the record for being the oldest in India, has another and not so distinguished claim to fame. It is probably the only civic body in India to be administered by special officers and not an elected council for long periods of time. Following what was known as the muster roll scandal that brought to light the fact that the civic body was paying salaries to several non-existent employees, the money being divided among the elected councillors and some employees, the council was suspended in 1973. The city was thereafter administered by a special officer of the IAS cadre. Matters remained this way till 1996, when elections were once again held. For the first time that year, the office of Mayor was also thrown open to public franchise, this being earlier subject to nomination among the elected councillors. Thereafter, we had functioning councils till 2015 when elections were not held with one flimsy excuse after the other being given. Now, after a gap of six years, once again under a special officer, the Corporation will have elections.

The DMK was in power in the State and in the council when the muster roll scandal broke. The Government had no option but to dissolve the council, faced as it was with several embarrassing revelations about its party men. Thereafter the Emergency intervened and when the MGR-led ADMK came to power in the State, it showed no inclination to hold civic body elections. This was because the city was widely perceived to be a DMK bastion, and the ADMK-led State Government could not stomach the possibility of a DMK-led council in the capital city’s civic body. Post MGR, the DMK was in power for a brief while – too brief to consider holding civic polls. The succeeding Jayalalithaa-led ADMK Government did not bother with such matters, once again possibly because the DMK could win in the council.

In 1996, the DMK was in power in the State and held civic body elections, the present CM then winning as Mayor and with the party getting a comfortable majority. The electorate had proved smart – it had decided that the only way it could get some progress in city administration was by electing the same party to the State and the civic body. The same trend continued when the ADMK swept to power every alternate five years. 2015 proved to be different – the council’s term ended and then came the great flood. Post this, the ADMK felt if elections to the civic body were held, it could lose to the DMK and so polls were not thought of. Now, once again, the DMK, safely in power in the State, is planning to hold elections to the corporation, quite confident of a win. It is on such considerations that our civic administration depends.

All of this shows that the civic body is viewed mainly as a stepping stone to greater political fortunes. The city’s future is farthest from any elected representative’s thoughts. Which is indeed a pity for there is so much good that can be done. The office of Mayor and those of councillors need to be above party considerations which currently remains a mere pipedream. Where does the city go from here? We can only hope for better sense ahead.

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