J&K Gets Self-rule Via Panchayat Polls

J&K Gets Self-rule Via Panchayat Polls

29 May 2011
Times of India
Randeep Singh Nandal

Srinagar: Ten phases of the 16-phase panchayat elections in Jammu & Kashmir are over. By June 16, when the last of the hamlets polls, hundreds of new sarpanch and panch would have settled into their jobs. Their mandate gains credibility from the turnout in every phase: A remarkable 80% or more. This has not only made people like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who called for boycotting the panchayat elections, isolated; it has even made people across the border sit up and take note. 'The panchayat polls are about people's problems at the grassroots and so they are good.' This isn't a comment fromCongress politician in Delhi; these words were Syed Sallahuddin's, the head of United Jihad Council and Hizbul Mujahideen. The panchayat elections can be called a 'quiet revolution'. For the first time in recent memory, the voice of the ordinary Kashmiri has been heard. So what would this revolution lead to? On the face of it, the panchayats will do the usual grassroots work like paving streets, building culverts and repairing schools. But after 20 years of turmoil, the panchayats have the potential to usher in much more. For one, this is the first election that makes the ordinary Kashmiri a stakeholder in Kashmir's ties to India. Part of the alienation that ordinary Kashmiri feels with India is his disconnect with mainstream political parties like the National Conference and PDP. Ever since Sheikh Abdullah, they have watched from the sidelines Kashmir whirl from being a part of India to an issue, then dispute, and back again 'one with Bharat'. With a history of rigged elections 'the one in 1987 being the most telling' and a culture of subservience of the state's political class meant nobody ever asked the ordinary Kashmiris what they wanted. From Mir Sadiq to GM Shah, all palace coups were engineered in New Delhi. The Kashmiri, the bystander, just watched in anger and amazement. The bystanders became rioters and, by 1990, with help from across the border, insurgency was born. This mistrust has grown. Successive Central governments have watched wearily that nothing works. No amount of money pumped in, no amount of political freedom. The voter of 2008 was also the stone pelter of 2010. The Kashmiri hears slogans of development but sees chaos. He votes for a government but sees a two-legged race: Congress with PDP, Congress with NC. He watches the state administration collapse for three successive years, first with the Amarnath Land row in 2008, then the Shopian rape case and finally the 115 deaths and lockdown for five months in 2010. The message is reinforced: the CM stays until Delhi wants him to. However, panchayat elections are different. It's a Central law, grudgingly adopted by the state government. More significantly, the Kashmiri voted for someone he knew and saw the results reflect that choice. The Rs 350 crore that will pour in are Central funds. The road repaired or school built will be done by money given directly by New Delhi to Kashmiri village. In a state where corruption and patronage means that every post comes at a cost, this is revolutionary development. When the Kashmiri sees Rs 350 crore make a difference to his life, he will want to know where did thousands of crores of rupees go. And for local politicians, playing victim won't be so easy. 'It won't be so easy to direct failures towards Delhi. The bijli-sadak situation is bad not because there isn't enough autonomy. It's bad because there's corruption,' says a former government official. 'The new crop of sarpanches, some young, some old, are the leaders of this land, and their climb upwards will be on the basis of the work they have done, not on their closeness to powers in Srinagar,' says Adnan Shah.


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