Bengal’s 2023 panchayat polls — a critical test for political parties before the 2024 Lok Sabha polls — will have at least 45 lakh new voters, which has prompted the state election commission to increase the number of seats by nearly 14,000 in the three tiers of the panchayat system .
The surge in numbers, multiple sources in the ruling party admitted, is a cause for worry as joblessness in the state, an Achilles’ heel for the Trinamul government, may pose problems for it at the hustings.
“The number of new voters may increase further if the new voter list, which is set to be published on January 5 next year, is adopted for the panchayat polls, which is likely to be held in February,” a source told The Telegraph.
The hike in the number of voters will, however, not increase the number of gram pancahayts, panchayat samitis or zilla parishads. The number of seats will be increased in the existing rural bodies to accommodate the new voters.
According to sources, the state election commission has estimated that the number of voters in 2023 panchayat polls will be around 5.53 crore compared to 5.08 crore in 2018.
“If the voter list of 2023 is adopted, the figure is set to go further up. A final call will be taken by the state poll panel on which year’s voter list will be adopted for next year’s rural polls,” said a source.
According to a preliminary estimate based on the voter list of 2022, a total of 13,712 seats will be increased in the gram panchayats compared to 2018 panchayat polls.
With the hike in seats, the total number of seats in the gram panchayats will be 62,362 from 48,650 in 2018.
“The state has 3,343 gram panchayats. Most gram panchayats will have more seats compared to last panchayat polls. But no new gram panchayat will be created,” explained a senior official.
Like the gram panchayats, 281 seats in the panchayat samitis and 103 seats in the zilla parishads will be increased.
A ruling party leader said they would campaign that more number of seats in the existing rural bodies will help the government provide better services to rural populace.
He added that the 45 lakh new voters — little less than 10 per cent of the total electorate — may pose uncomfortable questions for the ruling party.
“The new voters have attained 18 years of age in the past three-four years. This means many of them have finished studies and have started searching for jobs. Ruling party candidates may face uncomfortable questions over lack of jobs from new voters,” said a senior government official.
The state government could not give jobs to rural populace under the 100 days’ job scheme since the Centre stopped release of funds since April this year, citing misappropriation of funds.
“Despite several initiatives the state could not secure funds under the scheme yet. In this backdrop, the addition of so many new voters may leave the ruling party candidates in a spot,” said a source.
A ruling party insider said that the party is aware of the situation and that’s why the chief minister has decided to hold job fairs across the state.
“Already more than 10,000 appointment letters were distributed under the Utkarsh Bangla programme. In the coming days, more than 30,000 appointment letters will be given to the youths,” said the Trinamul leader.
A Trinamul MLA from East Burdwan said that the state government is trying to fulfil the demands of the centre so that funds are released under the 100 days’ job scheme.
“If the Centre does not release funds despite the measures taken by the state, we will go to the people and expose the BJP-led Centre ahead of rural polls,” said the MLA.