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No Opposition' Invite one

Calcutta, Dec. 3: When an Opposition can’t get elected, have it invited to power.

Such generosity in politics is unheard of, but so is a quarter century of uninterrupted rule in a democracy.

Be our guest, the Left Front government offered today to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul and the Congress. It announced in the Assembly its decision to call Opposition members as permanent invitees to committees of elected rural bodies — zilla parishads and panchayat samitis — charged with conducting development work.

Why invitees' Because, as panchayat minister Surjya Kanta Mishra said: “What does one do if the Opposition is unable to win an election' Extending an invitation, we suppose, is the only option left.”

The motive, he said, was to ensure wider political participation in rural development.

“We actually want the Opposition to feature on the committees because we want these bodies to become transparent and encourage mixing of many shades of opinion for the sake of a vibrant democracy,” he added while moving the West Bengal Panchayat (Second Amendment) Bill 2003.

A section of Trinamul and Congress legislators initially objected to the bill, saying its objective was not clear and demanded greater powers for Opposition parties in running panchayats.

“It is a welcome move, but we are not fully satisfied. You must give us more opportunities to participate in rural development,” Atish Sinha of the Congress said.

Apart from its stated objective, the government extending permanent invitee status is a move to rob the Opposition of its refrain that the front has turned panchayat bodies into “dens of corruption”.

Opposition leaders have often written to the Centre that the front uses the committees to perpetuate its iron grip on the countryside.

“These bodies are now handling a lot of funds and we want complete transparency in their expenditure. We want to provide the Opposition an opportunity to place its views before the sthayee samitis (permanent committees),” Mishra said.

The committees in question — numbering about 3,500 — are responsible for undertaking work on health, education and roads. Members of these committees are elected by panchayat samitis or zilla parishads. But, of the 17 zilla parishads, only two are under Opposition control.

“After the last panchayat election, we found that there is no opposition in the permanent committees,” Mishra said.

“We have brought the bill to serve you,” he told the Opposition. “Now, you can keep track of the day-to-day administration in zilla parishads and panchayat samitis as members of the permanent committees.”

“I do not know whether any other state government shows this kind of respect to the Opposition,” Mishra said.

Indeed. The Opposition’s problem will be to decide if it is respect or an insult.

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