The Panchayat elections

Shiban  Khaibri
No sooner did the state government declare its resolve to hold Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir from Feb15, than the so called Joint Resistance Movement (JRM) called for its boycott. It may be recalled that this “movement” comprises main separatist leaders like Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Farooq and Yasin Malik. At the outset, they should, as a matter of sincere advice,  by now overhaul the contents of their quiver of “resistance” by refilling that with  some new strategist devices like fighting these elections and showing their level of “popularity” since these elections are going to be held on non – Party basis. The scenario is fast changing, the vertebra of Pakistan sponsored terrorism is developing cramps and strains and the local support to the so called Jihad is waning into oblivion, instead it is the obverse. Pin pointed and accurate information about the movements and hideouts of terrorists is passed on to the security forces by the people on their own now, as a result of being fed up with the sordid and destructive game plan brazenly displayed in the valley by Pakistan at the cost of the blood of the people here both of civilians and personnel of security forces. The squalidness of the Pakistani games attempted to be played against this country is getting more and more exposed. The situation has now squarely descended to sending armed mercenaries direct from that country to keep some areas of the valley under strain due to indulging in sporadic attacks here and there, the number and intensity of which, however, have drastically come down due to increasing pressure on terrorist activities.
Anyway, democratic process should side by side continue to play its  part and that the same is going to be there in a big way up to the grass root levels in the form of holding Panchayat elections in itself is a challenge to anti India, Pro Pakistani and extreme fundamentalist elements.  This is surely a significant decision of the state government which should also be seen in the backdrop of the immense interest shown by the Governor of the state  N. N. Vohra who has been a strong votary of holding elections for Panchayat and Local bodies at the earliest.
Panchayats mean democracy at the grass root level. It means, therefore, the empowerment to look after, develop and reform the villages by the elected representatives .Locals alone can think what is administratively best for them and not the bureaucrats who live in and administer from their offices in cities. Significantly, the empowerment of women and their getting elected in turn means improvement in the perceptions of the women in the society. Economic empowerment,  though at margins, to women, help them take decisions regarding infrastructural development of the village, in particular, education, health, drainage, lighting, irrigation and potable water. Decentralization of power and strengthening democratic institutions are the two goals possible through elected Panchayats.
Last elections were held in 2011 and the new ones had fallen due nearly one and a half year back and strangely there were no elected Panchayats. However, there is some new arrangement in this regard in that this time only Panchs will be elected by the people and no direct election of Sarpanchs who will be elected by the Panchas of that Panchayat. The Parties in opposition like the NC and the Congress have, as usual, opposed this arrangement and want the previous system to be restored.
On Dec30 last year, the CM announced that after Panchayat elections, Municipal elections too shall take place which mean both democratic as well as financial powers at the grass root levels. In another move to innovative approach to the institutions of Panchayats, there will be a separate budget for Panchayats worth Rs. 4500 crore . With this, the practice of power budget has been sought to be done away with. In the history of the state in respect of Panchayats, the separate budget presentation would be the first of its kind in the state. The state has 4500 Panchayats and with Rs. 4500 crore budget, each Panchayat would get Rs. 1 crore per year for developmental works which in addition to other sources of direct governmental funding would mean development in good measure.
The separatist leaders feeling the situation created by Pakistan with their very active support in the valley as Achilles heel for the central government, leave no occasion available to them to issue calls like hartals, the march to the office of the UNMOG in Srinagar and issue boycott calls for elections. However, people rarely paid heed to their calls and not only participated in election processes but came out in large numbers to cast their votes which resulted in an enviable turnout of 68 to 71% of votes. The dilemma is that many leaders, instead of using the occasion to further gear up anti separatist and anti Pakistan stand in the valley and build up a nationalist response, resorted to such statements which either were totally unreasonable or landed at political absurdity. “The election results are in no way a referendum on the issue of the Kashmir problem but are for providing Sadak, Bijli and Paani”, was the immediate response of Omar Abdullah in respect of the elections of 2008. Those of 2014, the late Mufti Sayeed “thanked” Pakistan for “facilitating” (meaning not disrupting) the process of elections in the state, thus walking a step ahead in the direction of his predecessor. This sort of jousting for a stand between the “main stream” parties which was in one way or the other, going repugnant to the interests of the country, was in fact emboldening the anti India elements. And when one of them assumes power, it has to face the brunt of what they had sown earlier both wittingly and knowingly or just in the emotional burst of a particular notion of “Kashmiri Nationalism” which encompassed not the wider concept of inclusiveness. That speaks volumes of why such “main stream” leaders keep on issuing statements due to which not only they stood the risk of getting exposed but caused in the process, embarrassment to the Government. Should they show a change of heart in totally cooperating with the Government in ensuring the success of such elections for Panchayats and thus wreck a political blow to those who are always ready with issuing of calls like boycott etc? Let us watch and see.
The present dispensation, unfortunately, has to face uncalled for stand from within while dealing with Pakistan which could be termed as hostile. Not only in Kashmir, but we have many such voices across the country as well, which openly give vent to their such unwarranted feelings just either for vote bank consolidation and retention or just in the name of opposition. Like this, they cross all limits which stink of their being dyed in the “particular” wool. The recent terror attack on a CRPF camp in Kashmir, for example, generates absolutely no uniform condemnation from such leaders but on National TV Channels in presence of Pakistani panelists, instead, start attacking the policies of the Indian government. Pakistan and terror groups get a wrong notion, absolutely wrong.
The Government whichever in power won’t get accolades from the immediate opposition for good voter turnout in such elections because their armoury to attack gets blunt to some extent and on the other hand, for a dismal one,   was not going to be pilloried. That does not, however,  mean that any  effort, any opportunity and every occasion should not at  all be utilized to make such elections a success thus defeating the separatist and anti India forces.