B L Saraf
We are in the beginning of winter season, experiencing mild cold in plains and a bitter one in the mountains. Kashmir Valley is shivering due to the weather severity. Nonetheless, the political heat generated by the DDC elections is making people feel a bit cozy. The UT is witnessing a pleasant spectacle. A great churning is going on in the political ambience of the erstwhile state of J &K which, for the reasons very well known, lay stale and dormant for quite a long period. The ongoing election to the District Development Councils (DDCs) has become a stirring agent. After a long lull , political activity of sorts is underway in J & K. It must be said to the credit of the process that it has created a pull so strong as to suck in all those political elements which had stayed away from the Panchayat and Urban Local Bodies elections ,held three years back .
All political forces, including NC, PDP, PC and the national parties, in the UT, are in a race to reach the DDCs, albeit , through ballot papers. If not for anything else, it is for sheer survival of the Kashmir centric political parties that they had to take a plunge. Or else, in the scenario likely to emerge, theses parties would find themselves relegated to foot notes of state’s history. Moreover, it is good for the health of the democracy that the field is not left open for one political party and its surrogates to have a walk over. The participation of the local parties in the election process has made this contest worth its meaning .
The festival of democracy is in full swing in J &K which provides pleasant scene to view . The festivities have percolated down to the villages where people, with gusto, are enjoying to the full. Who wins and who loses, that apart , fairness and political strategy demand that the electorate should not be robbed of the enjoyment of participation.
Many a time before 5th August 2019, the J &K rulers were asked to look to the structural and operational shortcomings of the Panchayti Raj Act 1989 and incorporate a mechanism which would allow free flow of the benefits to the state people, accruing to the system under 73 and 74 Amendments made to the Constitution Of India . The amendments were aimed at the removal of the weaknesses in the Act and give teeth to the Panchayats. In 2004 and 2011 amendments to the Act were made which, respectively, provided for reservations for women, SC and ST members and creation of State Election Commission. However, nothing moved ahead and the benevolent effect of 73rd and 74rth continued to be denied to the people in J &K .
True Panchayati Raj system meant devolution of power to the Villages. In our case it was denied on the ground that it would create subdivisions, layer within layer and result in overlapping where nobody is clear as to who is in charge. In the situation, the government argued then, the ultimate arbiter would be a bureaucrat and a secretary in the secretariat . Well, that was only a ruse to save the fiefdom of MLAs and the Ministers .
Those who enjoyed state power in the state before 5th August 2019 – now languishing in political wilderness must be ruing their obduracy in heralding in the real and people beneficial changes in the Panchayati Raj system . They displayed same kind of obduracy by refusing basic rights to the West Pakistan Refugees and Valmikis. While continuing to bemoan the constitutional changes brought about by the 5th August 2019 developments – may be for some valid reasons- wonder what will be going through the minds of these people when, now, they are in a race to avail those very benefits accruing under the system which they , in their heyday, denied to the residents of the erstwhile state.
The ongoing DDC elections is one measure, among others, which may ease the situation and provide GOI with an opportunity to turn tide in the Valley and instill some hope in the mind and heart of a common Kashmiri that India does care for his / her democratic rights. That he / she is not an alienated and a forsaken lot. It is understandable that one move may not end the alienation but it would certainly put a stop to the erosion of integrating process. Therefore , a truly fair and transparent election game where each and every contestant -irrespective of his / her party affiliation – has a level playing field is need of the hour . Sometimes it is prudent to subordinate party interests to the bigger national interest . BJP mangers , who are the de-facto rulers in the UT , must care to bear it in mind .
For the Kashmir specific political forces it is imperative that , in anger against a political party, they do not rake up emotive issues which may tend to provide a breeding ground for the ” new age separatists ” and derail them from helping the cause of democracy and national service . Owing allegiance to the Constitution of India ,as they do , these political forces need to be extra cautious with their actions and should refrain from using words which are susceptible to uncalled for and unintended interpretations .
It bodes well that LG Manj Sinha has put in his heart and soul to see the election process goes through well. He has characterized the decision of all the political parties in the UT to take part in these elections as ” a true achievement .” In the given situation, role of LG becomes very important . Being an astute politician – with eyes to the ground -Manj Sinha must rise to the occasion and help people rediscover faith in the democracy. He has demonstrated his honest intentions by his far and wide public outreach. The L G may look into the complaints of the contesting parties in Kashmir that, under the pretext of securing them physically, the candidates opposing BJP and the allied parties are sopped from moving around to campaign and, thus, held back from their prospective voters. To lend credit to the exercise the fears, real or imaginary, expressed in this regard must be laid to the rest .
(The author is Former Principal
District & Sessions Judge)