Depriving youth their right to democracy

Priya Sethi
Anti-poll alliance in Jammu and Kashmir has gone bigger with People’s Democratic Party (PDP) joining the bandwagon with veteran leader from Jammu and Kashmir and Member of Parliament Farooq Abdullah who had earlier decided not to contest forthcoming local body polls. He had even gone to the extent of threatening not to participate in future electioneering be it that of assembly or parliament unless Union Government comes out with its stand on Article 35A – a constitutional provision that stands challenged by an NGO ‘We the Citizens’ in the Supreme Court of India.
Basically it has become a race of one-upmanship wherein both these political outfits in order to score over each other are ignoring the basic principles of democracy that call for empowering people at grass root level. By choosing not to be part of democratic process, these political outfits had established that they are not only inimical to peace but also don’t want young boys and girls to taste democracy, represent their wards, work for their community, give peace a chance and most importantly don’t emerge as future leaders only to replace those opposed to power of ballot.
Now that Governor Satya Pal Malik has decided to go ahead with Urban Local Body (ULB) polls, this is for sure that two Municipal Corporations and scores of Town Area Committees besides Municipal Committees will actually be engaging thousands of young leaders in state’s development. More jobs will be created, people empowered, there will be free flow of funds and massive development will engage more contractors who in turn will employ laborers both skilled and unskilled. Smart City Projects will also have capacity to engage several youth expert in their respective fields.
Shockingly, certain sections of society don’t what this all to happen. Both NC and PDP have cited issue of 35A as prime reason to stay away from polls and want Union Government to come with a word on it knowingly that the case is sub-judice. Those opposed to this have become a party to the litigation which is the right way to be heard and not the way NC or PDP have gone. They have chosen to toe the line treaded by separatists. Strangely, elected MLAs and MPs of these political parties will continue to draw perks and other benefits of being public representatives but won’t allow a whole new set of young people to be part of democracy.
Few years ago it was National Conference led coalition Government which instead of extending 73rd and 74th amendments of Constitutions of India to state was busy amending state laws to ensure that Panchayats and local bodies besides Municipal Corporations are empowered enough to let a three-tier system of governance decentralizes powers in Jammu and Kashmir State which then was believed to have come at par with rest of the institutions in India. Today, the same very party is shying away from polls.
However, amid these developments, claims and counter claims NC led coalition had allowed the Municipal Corporations of Jammu as well as Srinagar besides other local bodies in the entire state to get dissolved automatically. The then chief minister Omar Abdullah had made several announcements of holding elections to these institutions but ended up closing curtains on these democratically elected corporations and the exercises done to empower commoners remained on papers only. Today a denial to participate in polls establishes that NC was actually inimical to peace and has finally given up.
It was after a gap of 27 years that elections to Municipal Corporations of Jammu and Srinagar besides Town Area Committees and Municipalities scattered all over the state were held last in 2005 and people had started feeling the existence of Government at grass root level. Local elected representatives were accessible, works were being done as per wishes of people, funds had started flowing from Centre and enthusiasm amongst people to feel local self-governance was visible with the kind of their participation in this type of governance.
PDP till date takes credit of those polls and showers praises on Late Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed saying that the leader was always in favour of strengthening democratic institutions no matter who wins. The worst came when these elected institutions were allowed to lapse and no one actually bothered to hold elections again. Instead everyone including previous Government deliberately kept issuing vague statements and citing uncertainty in situation as prime cause of not holding elections in Jammu and Kashmir State.
One wonders as to how situation in Jammu and Kashmir stays conducive enough to elect MLAs and MPs but deteriorates when it comes to empowering common people to make them partners in development. We in Jammu and Kashmir State have witnessed worst of situations and stayed under Governor’s rule for pretty long years. However, consistent efforts have brought the derailed democracy back on rails and after that elections to state legislative assembly, State Legislative Council, Lok Sabha and even Rajya Sabha were held without any break.
This democratic process needs to keep rolling so that common masses get empowered and people decide or prioritize works in their respective areas. However several time mainstream politicians have derailed this process to suit their interests. Either situation becomes volatile or issues pending in Supreme Court are dragged in between elections just to ensure that new leadership never emerges in the State. They want powers to remain concentrated to a section of society and indulge commoners and their children into violence or other nonproductive activities.
Now when union government led by Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has decided to strengthen these institutions by holding elections to local bodies and Governor Satya Pal Malik too has assured that adequate security will be provided to the contesting candidates before and after elections there’s no point cribbing over or dragging in any other irrelevant issue into this exercise that’s sure to put in place a three tier system of governance in Jammu and Kashmir State.
Threats by NC or PDP to boycott democratic process are no less rhetoric than that of separatists who are known to swim against current and oppose democratic process that strengthens institutions and empower people. Earlier also a Kashmir centric party had threatened Union Government of Kashmir returning to 1987 like situation if anyone fiddles in internal affairs of their party. Such threats not only undermine democratic principles but also bring to foreground attempts to scuttle democracy.
Article 35A, that bars outsiders from owning property in Jammu and Kashmir or divest girls of our state of their proprietary rights on marrying anyone from outside the state in sub-judice in Supreme Court and NC of PDP by taking a plea of that to boycott local body polls is doing nothing but trying to create an unrest amongst masses, divest people of their rights to be part of a democratic process, keep municipal corporations dumped, gain political mileage over their archrivals and hide their heads in sand to avoid shame that is sure to surface once the elections are held.
The structure of democracy is so good that even if a couple of parties won’t participate in these polls, elections will anyway be held and should be. The only difference that will remain is that instead of representatives of these political parties more common independent candidates and those of parties which will participate in the process will take control of reins of ULBs and begin their journey towards developing major capital cities besides major towns. I strongly believe in strengthening democratic institutions and for that elections to local bodies and Panchayats must be held.
To conclude, I am reminded of noise that these political parties use to make in strengthening Panchayats and Local Bodies but today they caved in. A couplet by Khwaja Haider Ali Aatish of Lucknow best suits these outfits and it goes like…
Bohut shor sunte thae pehlu mein dil ka
Jo cheera to ek qatra-e-khooN na nikla
(The author is former Minister, MLA and State Spokesperson J&K BJP)