Let grassroots grow

The basic problem, however, is the lack of political will to decentralise power. Legislators fear that their monopoly over voters is going to be eroded once a strong grassroots political class emerges. They fear that an empowered panchayat threatens their monopoly over the administrative affairs of the state. This undermines the idea of panchayats as an extension of federal logic and the third tier of the federal system. It also explains the inadequate government funding and the utter powerlessness of elected panchayat members.

The violence against panchayats has, to paraphrase Hannah Arendt, demonstrated its instrumentality in creating a fear psychosis that contributed to the recent en masse resignations. The government maintains it is not possible to provide security to all 33,000 panchayat members. That, in a way, would also defeat the purpose of decentralisation, as it would lead to a kind of state appropriation of this lower level of governance. Panchayat members are an integral part of the day-to-day culture of villages. They should not be isolated and insulated from the community.

The key concern should be to depoliticise the panchayat system in the state. The major political parties, especially the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party, entered into a race to claim victory in the 2011 panchayat elections, grossly politicising the issue. This has resulted in an unhealthy system of political patronage, extended to various elected panchayat members. The sarpanches should be more a part of the community network than the government.

A sarpanch from central Kashmir's Budgam district, confided, on the condition of anonymity, that even if they got funds from the district administration, they had to run around for clearances. This disillusionment is widespread in the valley. The recent killings have only sharpened their opinion about government apathy.

Many panchayat bodies, including the Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conference (JKPC), have announced that they will not be cowed by the attacks. Indeed, most of them have not technically resigned, choosing to announce their intention to quit in the media. This might well be a way to pressure the Omar Abdullah government into providing them with a cause worth fighting for.

... contd.

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