TDP scores self-goal on ward volunteers

The issue ended with the Election Commission, acting on the court’s directives, prohibiting the deployment of volunteers.
The Election Commission of India
The Election Commission of India

Politics is so dynamic that one misstep close to the elections could decisively swing the results. Such a situation is playing out at present in Andhra Pradesh, which goes to polls on May 13.  The opposition TDP’s alliance with the BJP and actor Pawan Kalyan’s Jana Sena is seen as a step in the right direction, notwithstanding the inherent problems. But even before the trio could pacify discontented leaders among their ranks, they have scored what seems to be a self-goal.

The TDP has been against the system of ward and village volunteers—introduced by the YSRC government to ensure doorstep delivery of government schemes—as it saw them as foot soldiers of the ruling party. Currently, there are about 2.6 lakh such volunteers.

The Jana Sena had earlier levelled serious allegations against the volunteers, going so far as to claim they could be responsible for the trafficking of women. Against this backdrop, Citizens of Democracy, a forum of intellectuals perceived to be sympathetic to the TDP, moved the high court arguing that the volunteers were influencing voters. The issue ended with the Election Commission, acting on the court’s directives, prohibiting the deployment of volunteers. If we look at the issue objectively, there is merit in the fears that the volunteers could influence voters.

However, politics being politics, it requires deft handling—particularly when the TDP knows the system has made the lives of rural people, especially the elderly, comfortable. At first it was against the system itself, and following a backlash to Kalyan’s remarks, changed its stance to clarify that it is not against the system per se, only its politicisation.

Disbursal of pensions began at local secretariats, not people’s doorsteps, the other day and visuals of the elderly waiting in queues in the searing weather were all over the place. The YSRC was quick to point fingers at the TDP, which is now desperately assuring it is not against the volunteers. The opposition party has also sought to blame the YSRC, claiming the queues could have been avoided. But the people bearing the brunt of this political slugfest would not go into the merits of the arguments.

For them, it is ease of living that has been disturbed. Given that there are over 60 lakh social security pensioners, the fallout could be difficult to manage. If the alliance loses in the assembly polls, one could look at this moment as being the turning point.

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