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Feb 2018

NEWS politics Kashmir

NEWS politics Kashmir fears panchayat polls Panchayat representatives demonstrate in Srinagar and demand total implementation of the centre’s Panchayati Raj Act Jehangir rashid Srinagar THERE isn’t any enthusiasm over the panchayat elections in the Kashmir Valley slated for 15 February. In stark contrast, five years ago, panchayat elections had roused much interest and many well-intentioned people had participated. The reason is that both the former National Conference-Congress government and the present People’s Democratic Party-BJP alliance did not empower panchayats at all. So, those who were elected feel they couldn’t fulfil their promises to the people. They believe there is no point in standing for election unless the 73rd and 74th Amendments giving constitutional status to panchayati raj institutions are implemented in letter and spirit. “Last time, the state government promised that necessary devolution of powers would be done. They assured the panchayats they would be fully empowered. But the government did not keep its promise. So what is the point of such a futile exercise yet again?” says Bashir Ahmed Malik, President of the All Jammu & Kashmir Panchayat Conference (AJKPC), Kashmir Province. “The government merely wants sarpanches and panches to become scapegoats and face the music from people who are opposed to any electoral activity in the state, especially in the Kashmir Valley.” The security of panchayats’ elected members has been a serious issue. Around 20 panches and sarpanches have been killed or grievously injured in the past six years or so. “I have no hesitation in saying that the Kashmir issue is a political issue and needs to be solved politically. Let the government come out with a meaningful dialogue process in order to resolve the issue. Talks need to be carried on with the people who oppose the Constitution of India and not with those who swear by the Constitution,” adds Malik. In 2011, when panchayat elections were held in Jammu and Kashmir, 75-80 percent of the population participated. More than 30,000 panches were elected across the state. However, consecutive state governments did not extend the full benefits of the 73rd and 74th Amendments to the panchayats here. The disempowerment of panchayats in the state has led to a feeling among people that panchayat elections are a mere rouse to receive funds from the centre. Anil Sharma, President, AJKPC, asserts that those who stood for elections last time are unlikely to run for office again. “The soul of the Panchayati Raj Act pictures by bilal bahaDur of 1989 has been taken out and right now it is a mere skeleton. The holding of elections in such a situation is a mere formality and the government just wants to shed its responsibility. No direct election of sarpanches took place in the last elections. Disempowerment of panchayats gave an opportunity to separatists following which they have asked the people to stay away from panchayat elections,” says Sharma. He adds that if elections were held in their real spirit then Block Development Councils would come up. He says District Development Board meetings should be chaired by the representatives of local selfgovernment and not by ministers or legislators, as happens currently. “Legislators belonging to the Upper and Lower Houses of the state legislature are expected to do bigger things. It is a pity that MLAs do work that is supposed to be carried out by panchayat office-bearers like construction of drains and providing ration cards to people,” points out Sharma. Regional mainstream parties like the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party have been maintaining that since Jammu and Kashmir has its own Constitution, central laws cannot be applied automatically to the state. This contention is surprising since recently central Acts like the Goods & Services Tax (GST) and the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest (SARFAESI) Act have been applied to the state. Malik says that empowerment is an issue with panches and sarpanches. But such empowerment can only be successful in a free and fearless environment. So the Government of India must begin talks with the separatists. While separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik have asked the people to stay away from the panchayat elections, militant organisations have issued threats. The largest indigenous militant outfit, Hizbul Mujahideen, has asked people to blind those who decide to stand for elections. Sharma said that the morale of the people has dipped since the last panchayat elections as decentralisation of power did not take place. He added that enthusiasm and interest was lacking among people. However, he made it clear that his organisation does not support boycott of these elections. Malik emphasises that people have lost faith and trust in the system and the damage can be repaired only if tangible measures are taken to solve the Kashmir issue. He said the government should fulfil its promise that a sarpanch would be like the chief minister of the panchayat. • 16 Civil SoCiety FeBRUARy 2018

Civil SoCiety FeBRUARy 2018 17

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