DDCs – Our version of “Basic Democracies”

B L Saraf
Now that Chairpersons of the newly constituted District Development Councils (DDCs) are in the process of being elected/ selected, we believe ,these councils will soon get under way to discharge their prescribed duties. We hope, once that happens a democratic atmosphere of sorts will somehow set in J&K : though much remains to be desired in this regard. In absence of the Legislative Assembly and an elected State Government these Councils will, unfortunately, meet the same fate which ‘ Basic Democracies ‘ of Pakistan had to encounter.
The parallel may not fit in quite well. Nonetheless, there are certain significant trappings which overlap in both the situations and help us build the ensuing perspective. Jammu and Kashmir, though within the Indian Union, has, as a unit, some remarkably distinct features- not found in other units of the Union- which make it a class apart on many parameters. More so, for the purpose of seeing similarities in the scene which, if not corrected, is likely to unfold rather soon.
The political picture, now shaped in J&K, where DDCs (District Development Councils) and Panchayat Committees dot the canvas reminds one of Pakistan of 1959-60 , when General Ayub Khan ruled supreme, there. Ayub Khan was a military dictator who usurped power after overthrowing a semi -civilian regime . Therefore ,his disregard for the democratic principles was well understandable. However , bowing to the internal and external pressure he had to create a veneer of ‘democracy ‘ to grant some respectability to his undemocratic rule .So, he conceptualized a framework of ‘ Basic Democracy ‘ which envisaged creating a network of Local-self governing bodies at the gross root level. According to the General, these bodies would provide a link between people and the Government. Primary governing units were set up to conduct local affairs by the elected called as’ Basic Democrats’ , from the constituencies of 800 to 1000 adults. There were no provincial assemblies nor a one at the federal level. Ayub Khan argued against them on the plea that “Pakistan was not ready for a full -blown experiment in Parliamentary democracy .” Rationale behind ” Basic Democracy ” was that it would provide material benefit and ” possibly expose people to the self -governance.” It was supposed to be a stratified system of governance where authority vested in the different councils in a graphic shape of a pyramid . But in reality the picture looked quite opposite. So, people in Pakistan didn’t take the frame work to the liking as they thought that it perpetrated a rule by the Central bureaucrats and lacked true representative character.
It must be said to the credit of the Central Government that the election to the DDCs in the UT did provide a pleasant scene as people came out to exercise their democratic right. The amended Panchayati Raj Act 1989 together with 73 and 74 Amendments incorporated to the Constitution Of India made it possible. One has to bear it in mind that DDCs and the ULBs together with the Legislative Assembly (LA) completes the pyramid of a democratic framework which ensures people’s participation at every stage of the governance. The structure will be incomplete and ineffective if any one of the referred components is found missing and, as said above , in the absence of the elected Government the DDCs and the ULBs will be rendered lame ducks.
The Panchayati Raj system of governance , in real terms , presupposes devolution of power to the villages which will be a meaningful one only if the members have to report to an elected government and not be at the mercy of MHA Babus , even for small matters. The necessity of having L A is emphasized by none other than an important functionary of the ruling BJP. The party’s national general secretary in charge J &K revealed the mind of PM Modi on the subject . Talking to the media on the issue of DDCs Tarun Chug said ” Modi’s thinking is to link Panch to the Parliament .”
We can’t go by the argument of Ayub Khan that people (of Pakistan) require first to be acclimatized to the local -self Government before “they are exposed to the Parliamentary democracy.” May be flawed at times and not an ideal one , people in J&K have had the taste of democracy for long and in a fairly consistent mode . So, they don’t need ‘appetizers’ / ‘ starters ‘ before having a full course meal of the democracy. These Councils will mean nothing if the Central bureaucrats continue to interfere with their job, or place hurdles in implementing their people friendly schemes.
It won’t pay to make DDCs lookalike of Ayub Khan’s “Basic Democracies”- the toothless creatures at the mercy of central officers.
Restoration of the statehood and constituting the LA are the matters of immediate concern . But we don’t see restoration of the statehood in the horizon ; and as things portend we won’t be having the LA either, in the near future. The Delimitation Commission set up to redraw assembly constituencies hasn’t even started the job, while its term is coming to an end in the first week of March 2021 . The absence of an elected Government will be a big handicap for the functioning of D DCs : continued curbs placed on civil rights of the populace will be the other hurdle . If we have to see some semblance of democratic activity in J&K it is essential that restrictions on the civil rights are removed and people allowed to exercise them freely. A strong case for removal of the restrictions and easing the situation comes from none other than the DGP, himself .According to him several militants have been eliminated and the situation was better ” on all parameters in 2020.” This statement calls for a positive reappraisal of the situation. Net connectivity, in full, should be restored throughout J&K.
(The author is former Principal District & Sessions Judge)