Grassroots Democracy Threatened In The Valley

Grassroots Democracy Threatened In The Valley

18 May 2012
Tehelka
Riyaz Wani

Srinagar: LAST APRIL’S panchayat elections in Jammu & Kashmir that saw an 80 percent voter turnout heralded the much-delayed empowerment of grassroots democracy in the state. But a year later, around 34,000 elected village representatives are staring at an uncertain future, caught between a government that doesn’t empower them, and a fragile security situation where they are sitting ducks for militants or gunmen. One such incident took place last month when posters purportedly signed by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) went up across Pulwama district in south Kashmir, asking the panches and sarpanches to resign within a week, failing which they would become the LeT’s “legitimate targets”. “The Kashmir issue has persisted for the last six decades and is now echoing across the world. But the government is using you as pawns to weaken the struggle and fritter away our efforts,” read the poster. “We warn everyone with a fascist mindset, including panches and sarpanches and political workers, to exhibit their non-partisanship and offer their resignations to the government. We hope you will not force us to resort to jihadi activity.” The police later arrested two persons for putting up the posters and claimed that they were not authentic. However, the LeT hasn’t disowned the posters, which logically doesn’t rule out its involvement. But this hasn’t frightened the village headmen who have since held their ground, despite the odd killing. Last year, during the Panchayat poll a woman candidate was gunned down at Pakherpora in Budgam district. This year in February, a panch was shot at and injured at Tral in south Kashmir. There are now reports of village headmen resigning. According to Shahnawaz Sultan, a sarpanch from Chadoora and convener of the J&K Panchayati Raj Movement (PRM), 300 elected village headmen have resigned so far. “Around 26 panches and sarpanches have resigned from our area,” says Sultan. However, the reasons for the resignation have little to do with militancy. “People are resigning because they have very little authority to do anything,” he claims. Ashaq Hussain, a sarpanch from Vilgam Kupwara, describes the unenviable situation of his lot. “Around 80 percent of the population voted to get us elected. Now, they expect us to usher in development at the grassroots. People come to us but we aren’t able to prevail upon even the Block Development Officers,” he says. Another reason for resignations is the lack of remuneration. “Being a sarpanch is a round-theclock job. You are called upon to attend to every grievance. And then you are not paid for it. Where will an honest sarpanch go? How will he feed his family?” Now, the PRM is demanding the implementation of the 73rd Amendment Act and holding of elections for block and district level to complete the “three-tier system of panchayat governance” in the state. But the state government cites Article 370, which grants J&K special status, for not implementing it. The 73rd Amendment Act of 1992 has a provision for devolution of powers and responsibilities to panchayats. Panchayats can prepare plans for economic development and social justice in relation to 29 subjects listed in the 11th Schedule of the Constitution. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had announced that District Development Boards will have panchayat members as chairmen. But the panches and sarpanches claim nothing has changed on the ground. “We continue to be powerless and soft targets ,” says Hussain. The government has declined to provide them security as it is impossible to do so for around 34,000 elected representatives. “We had asked for a gun licence, even that has been denied,” says Hussain.