DANGERS OF DEMOCRACY

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Panchayati Raj Institutions were peddled to usher Kashmir in a new era of gross root development but the mysterious assassinations  triggered mass resignations and a fierce debate over the system being crippled well before it could deliver. As voters feel disillusioned, JEHANGIR ALI reports the crisis in which the nascent democracy finds itself.

A Sarpanch taking part in a sit in protest in Srinagar

The killing of deputy Sarpanch, Muhammad Shafi Teli, in north Kashmir’s Baramulla town last Sunday night was not an isolated event. There is a chilling method to the madness in which the Panchayat members who were touted to usher in a new era of democracy in the conflict-hit Kashmir are systematically being targeted by unidentified gunmen. Significantly, eight members have been assassinated so far in the valley but (except one case where a chargesheet was filed), not much progress has been made by the state police in most of these cases.

Teli’s killing has spread panic among nearly 34,000 village representatives who were elected to Panchayat bodies last year. Many have tendered their resignations en masse. The readers of one of the major Urdu dailies were greeted on Tuesday morning by paid advertisements from 38 Panchayat members announcing their resignation. Sources in the state’s rural development ministry say more than 800 members have tendered their resignations.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah was apparently disturbed by the spurt in assassinations of Panchayat members. “Militants are cowards who attacked these defenseless people. They do not attack me because they know they will get a reaction. How many Panchs are being killed in a day in Bihar or in other Naxal affected states? And if they (Army) are saying that the number of militants is increasing in the hinterland, may I ask, what are they doing on the borders?” Omar said. To negate the fast evolving image of Kashmir heading back to the chaos, he said there were only three deaths and 50 resignations ever since elections were held.

J&K’s Panchayati Raj minister, Ali Muhammad Sagar, told Kashmir Life that Omar had written to the security agencies to ensure safety of vulnerable representatives after assessing their level of threat. “I have personally visited a number of constituencies and interacted with them. This was not the right time to hold Block Development Council polls given the kind of violence that is taking place. But to dispel the fears of Panchayat members, we have announced the dates. The opposition is trying to create panic in the state,” he said.

As in any other state of India, the election to Panchayati Raj Institutions was a three tier process. Although the election to the first tier, Deh Majlis (known as Gram Sabha in India) was held last year, it took nearly 16 months for the government to announce the dates for holding second tier elections (notifications being issued on Oct 4 and the process to be completed by the first week of November) for constituting Block Development Councils. This will be followed by the formation of District Development Councils which will complete the process of creating the edifice to which powers will be transferred.

Historically, the participation of rural population in elections has bolstered the political process in Kashmir valley which began in 1996 after a gap of seven years of Delhi’s remote rule when the violence broke out in Kashmir valley in early 90’s. This process flourished from 2002 onwards with a large turnout in assembly elections taking many political pundits by surprise. Interestingly, more than 60 percent voters belonged to rural areas which were ravaged in violence since the conflict erupted in Kashmir valley. But in big towns like Sopore and Baramulla, which have historically been bastions of separatist leaders, not more than 10 percent population participated in elections. The people of Srinagar city too stay away from elections.  So when the first tier of Panchayat elections was held last year, there was a record 79 percent voter turnout. In the run up to these elections, the mainstream political parties had exhorted people to participate in these elections so that the elected Panchayat members bring redressal to their daily issues, something which was not mandated under the district plans of the state government.

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3 Comments

  1. Mir Ehsan has done a good copy in the Indian Express about the slain deputy sarpanch Teli. The story says Teli was a poor man till the BSF purchased part if his land and he became cash rich. He open a shop and tgatbwas success. It added to his influence and that led him to contest and win the panchayat election. Now, BSF required more land and the identified and included his 30 kanals. While locals do not want this to happen, he was willing and convasing for the paramilitary. There might be, as Ehsan has mentioned, local irritations to these panch killings.

  2. This line is from the official spokesman taken from his statement after the unified headquarters meeting: ” It was stated that in certain investigations it has been found that subversive elements and their sympathizers were being used by anti-social elements for meeting their political and personal ends.”
    It vindicates Ehsan’s copy.

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