What is meant by the term “aldermen”? The tiff between BJP and AAP over the term!

Recently, on January 4, 2023, Vk Saxena. Delhi’s Lt. Governor nominated 10 aldermen. This gave rise to significant controversy. The 10 nominees are all BJP members. Let us understand what the term “aldermen” means.
What is meant by 'aldermen'?
What is meant by 'aldermen'?

The latest municipal corporation elections saw Bharatiya Janata Party getting defeated by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). The latter’s victory was only through a thin margin. The mayor elections were held on January 6, in which the aldermen had no right to vote. Despite this fact, the aldermen still hold a key role and power in the elections of Standing Committees, ward, and MCD in-house committee meetings. 

Who are aldermen?

The term “aldermen'' refers to a member of a municipal body or city council with exact responsibilities based upon the location of its usage. The term hails from Old English.


Where did the term originate from?

The word “aldermen” comes from the amalgamation of Old English terms for “old” (West Saxon, eald or Anglian, ald) and “man” (mann in West Saxon, monn in Mercian/Anglian).


Here, “ald” meant “of ancient origin”. 


The Mercian term “Aldormonn” and the West Saxonian term “ealdormann” originally meant “elder members of the tribe.” Gradually, the term was used for the king’s viceroys. Note that at this time, the age of the viceroy did not matter. Later, the word started being used for the “chief magistrate of a country”. The chief magistrate possessed many duties, including both military and civic.


With time, the term started getting associated with guilds and leaders. Later, in around the 12th century CE, guilds started becoming associated with municipal governments. At this time, the term aldermen started to refer to municipal body officers. Till now, the term is used in the same sense.


Different roles of aldermen in different parts of the world- a dig into the history!


The term “aldermen” is widely used to denote officers of the municipal body. Yet, aldermen from all over the world perform different roles. 


Before the 19th century, the definition and roles of an alderman were ambiguous in Britain. However, in the Municipal Reform Act of 1835, the aldermen and councilors comprised the municipal borough. The aldermen would be elected by the council for a tenure of 6 years. Note that here, the electorate did not elect the aldermen, and the council that elected the aldermen included the outgoing aldermen too.


The long term of 6 years of an alderman gave a losing party an opportunity to hold control once again by selecting the aldermen.


The Local Government Act of 1971

The Act put an end to Aldermen with voting rights. The act came into effect from the year 1974. The London borough councils and the Greater London Council were an exception to this, as there, the Act came into effect in the year 1978.


Talking about the United States, the alderman could have been a member of the judicial local government or the legislative branch, depending upon the jurisdiction. The legislative and executive body of a myriad of towns and cities in the U.S. is governed by a “board of aldermen”.


In Canada, the term was made to use for the members elected to a municipal council to represent wards. Now, what about the women who were getting elected to the municipal office? Were they called “aldermen” too? No. To fix this problem the term “alderman” got replaced by the term “councilor”. Additionally, some also made use of the term “alderperson.” 


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