People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 19

May 08, 2011




Big Opportunity to Address Basic Political Issue


                                                                    M Yousuf Ganie Nairang


THE nearly 80 per cent turnout of voters in the ongoing panchayat elections in Jammu & Kashmir is the single most important political development since the eruption of separatist militancy in 1989. There are analysts who belittle the importance of this democratic exercise, saying that people have voted just for sadak, bijli aur pani (roads, power and water) and that these elections are in no way related to the vexed Kashmir issue. They ignore the fact that the participation and involvement of the people in the elections of any kind manifests their increased interest in the democratic process. After all, modern politics is defined as a set of activities which the common people undertake for achieving power and using it in governing a village, state or a country .We should not forget that only two per cent Kashmiri voters turned out to cast their votes in the parliamentary elections of June 1991 and that the turnout was a mere 40 per cent in the 1996 assembly elections.


The Ladakh division, which has two autonomous hill councils to manage the local self-government, did not go to the panchayat polls.




In contrast, the 2008 elections recorded more than 60 per cent voter turnout and now the panchayat elections have broken all records.

This steady increase in the voter turnout indicates that despite the political nature of the Kashmir issue remaining as it, people’s alienation has narrowed and they have developed greater trust in the process of democratisation and election system of the country. No one can deny that the malpractices and sometimes gross rigging of elections in the state from 1951 to 1977 had eroded all traces of faith in the country’s electoral system, as it pertained to the state of Jammu & Kashmir.


But now the inculcation of this faith among the masses, and the way they have ignored the boycott calls coming from hardcore separatist groups, provides a great and most valuable opportunity for the entire Indian political spectrum, including the opposition BJP and the Left, to work on the people’s involvement and speed up the intra-Kashmir and the Srinagar-Delhi dialogue processes. The parties have to come forward with some bold initiatives like restoration of full autonomy to the entire state and granting of regional autonomy to its three regions --- i.e. Jammu, Kashmir valley and Ladakh. A revision of the administrative orders and laws bases on article 370 and framing of a fresh political set-up could well be the outcome of these initiatives.




Coming back to the all important panchayat elections, we have to realise that the large voter turnout must not be taken as a vote for the political status quo or for giving a short-shrift to the people’s aspiration for a distinct identity. We should not forget that the universally acknowledged first fair assembly elections of 1977 had also thrown up a great opportunity but that that opportunity was not availed of; rather it was taken as a vote for the status quo.


In this regard, we must not forget the status-quoist stand our rulers in New Delhi had been adopting. For example, when a former prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, was asked in Islamabad about the way for a resolution of the Kashmir issue, he had replied that a number of elections (including that of 1977) could be construed to have settled the issue. Every one knows that only 12 years after the landmark elections of 1977, getting sustenance from the people’s sense of complete alienation, separatist militancy cropped up in 1989 and is still going on though at a low ebb.


One more point worth consideration is the apprehension that government may paint the panchayat elections as people’s approval for the centre’s present Kashmir policy. In this case the vested interest may well creep in and launch a campaign to convince the J&K people that the elected panches and sarpanches are collaborators and that the whole system of panchayati raj is an attempt to dissuade the Kashmir people from their struggle for justice and fulfilment of genuine aspirations.




The CPI(M) has been a strong and vociferous supporter of the panchayat raj system and devolution of powers to the grassroots level. Almost in every session of the state legislative assembly since 1996, the lone member of party, Mohd Yousuf Tarigami introduced private member’s bills for an amendment of the state’s Panchayati Raj Act 1989, so that it could be brought on a par with the centre’s amended and updated Panchayat Raj Act. The latest such bill was introduced on 25 April 2011.

This CPI(M) amendment aimed at limiting the intervention of the administration in the elected panchayat bodies. It also demanded thorough democratisation of the local self-government to allow the elected panches and sarpanches of halqa panchayats to elect the chairmen and vice chairmen of the District Development Boards who, under the present act, are nominated by the government. The proposed amendment, if accepted, would leave no chance for the administration to meddle in the affairs of the panchayat bodies and ensure the complete devolution of powers. The objective of the bill underlined the democratic functioning of the panchayats and making them more responsive to the aspirations of the people at large.


The amendment bill was, however, not even discussed in the state legislature and the ongoing panchayat elections are being held under the old un-amended act.




Though the present panchayat elections were conducted on a non-party basis, the candidates in the fray were supported by various political parties. The state unit of the CPI(M) sponsored several candidates in its stronghold of Kulgam district and supported a number of candidates in other areas as well. Over 60 per cent of the CPI(M) supported candidates won as panches and sarpanches from the Kulgam assembly area, while a number of candidates were successful in other areas. The party marked its presence in a few more districts of the valley and also in the Jammu division.


Moreover, not only has the CPI(M) won seats; it has markedly improved its share of the polled votes compared to the 2008 elections to the state assembly. Even at places where the candidates supported by it have lost, the margin was very small. The margin was just of four votes at one place in Kulgam district, while the difference ranged from 30 to 70 votes at several places. Among other reasons, the improved performance of the party can be ascribed to the support it extended to the people’s political aspirations which includes the preservation of their distinct identity and restoration of autonomy, and also to its robust struggles for generation of employment for the youth and the welfare of small farmers, fruit growers and landless labourers.




The performance of the various political parties apart, the holding of the latest panchayat elections in Jammu & Kashmir is likely to have far reaching consequences and has definitely generated a new hope for building the democratic institutions. Many of such institutions were either hitherto non-existent or had fallen apart due to the turmoil of the past 20 years. The people’s urge to have institutions at the grassroots level is indeed a reaction and response to the mischiefs of the vested interests which have evolved into a strong negative force and are bent upon frilling any genuine efforts for peace, normalcy and non-violent democratic process for the resolution of the Kashmir issue. As already said, the present panchayat elections have thrown up an invaluable opportunity, which should in no way be wasted. The government must introduce the 73rd amendment in the state and must fully empower the halqa panchayats, Block Development Councils and District Development Boards so that the masses are empowered and become their own rulers instead of being the ruled subjects.


In this context, it is worth noticing that despite 63 years of independence from the autocratic rule, the domicile certificate issued to permanent residents of Jammu & Kashmir is still popularly known as a State Subject certificate. It may also be pertinent to quote a recent statement of Mr Dilip Padgaonkar, the chief interlocutor on Kashmir, about the feelings and aspirations of people of Jammu & Kashmir: “People want an effective, constitutionally guaranteed devolution of political, financial and administrative powers to all the three regions of the state and further devolution at the district, block and panchayat levels.” The ongoing panchayat elections, which are being conducted in an enthusiastic and peaceful environment, can help in fulfilling the people’s aspirations. This is what the interlocutors mandated to work out a formula for the settlement of the long pending Kashmir imbroglio, think to be necessary.


Any process of decentralisation and democratisation of the administration aims to help the people become the partners in development. Here this process, if encouraged, can also help in finding an amicable solution to the vexed Kashmir problem by creating an atmosphere that is conducive for the purpose.