Po­lit­i­cal spar­ring over sarpanch killings in J&K

With Rahul Gandhi crit­i­cis­ing the NC over the re­cent killing of two sarpanches, pol­i­tics is cloud­ing the larger is­sue, says

Tehelka - - SIKKIM - RIYAZ WANI

BY KASH­MIR’s stan­dards, two killings in a fort­night would re­flect a re­mark­able im­prove­ment in the sit­u­a­tion. But not when the tar­geted are elected pan­chayat rep­re­sen­ta­tives who have be­come the har­bin­gers of peace in the Val­ley by en­abling the per­co­la­tion of main­stream pol­i­tics to the grass­roots.

While they painstak­ingly forge this de­sir­able im­pres­sion for the world, thou­sands of panches and sarpanches op­er­ate hap­lessly in a bit­terly con­tested space. Mil­i­tants see their ex­is­tence as the nega­tion of their two-decade-old strug­gle while the gov­ern­ment sees them as sym­bols of the ul­ti­mate tri­umph over sep­a­ratist re­sis­tance.

Though this tug-of-war has been silently go­ing on since the pan­chayat polls hap­pened last year, the re­cent killing of two sarpanches has brought this un­remit­ting con­flict out in the open. There has been a slow build-up to these killings, start­ing with poster threats early this year in south Kash­mir vil­lages. “The gov­ern­ment is us­ing you as pawns to weaken the free­dom strug­gle and frit­ter away our ef­forts,” one such poster by the Lashkar-e-Toi- ba read. “We warn all peo­ple with fas­cist mind­sets, which in­cludes panches and sarpanches and other po­lit­i­cal work­ers, to of­fer their res­ig­na­tions to the gov­ern­ment. We hope that you will not force us to re­sort to ji­hadi ac­tiv­ity against you.”

Now, with mil­i­tants de­cid­ing to carry out their threats, the fall­out has been a spate of res­ig­na­tions that have left the pan­chay­ati raj sys­tem tot­ter­ing on its foun­da­tions. More than 200 panches and sarpanches have ten­dered their res­ig­na­tions through paid ad­ver­tise­ments in lo­cal news­pa­pers; many who couldn’t, rushed to their vil­lage mosques to an­nounce the de­ci­sion. The sit­u­a­tion is eerily rem­i­nis­cent of the early ’90s when clas­si­fied pages in lo­cal news­pa­pers were filled with res­ig­na­tion let­ters of po­lit­i­cal work­ers.

The state gov­ern­ment’s fran­tic ef­forts to stem the tide have met with lit­tle suc­cess. Chief Min­is­ter Omar Ab­dul­lah, in a hastily called press con­fer­ence, as­sured se­cu­rity to the pan­chayat mem­bers. Min­is­ter for Pan­chay­ati Raj Ali Muham­mad Sa­gar said the state gov­ern­ment would alert the se­cu­rity grid to en­sure pro­tec­tion of the pan­chayat rep­re­sen­ta­tives. He also of­fered per­sonal se­cu­rity on the ba­sis of the threat per­cep­tion to the “vul­ner­a­ble” mem­bers. THE KILLINGS and their fall­out also brought into play an in­cip­i­ent rift in the coali­tion gov­ern­ment. The Na­tional Con­fer­ence and the Congress pub­licly sparred over the de­lay in del­e­gat­ing pow­ers to the pan­chay­ats, with Rahul Gandhi also join­ing in the ar­gu­ment. The Congress scion raised the is­sue of the re­fusal of the state gov­ern­ment to in­cor­po­rate the 73rd Amend­ment of the Con­sti­tu­tion, which, in his opin­ion, had ren­dered pan­chay­ats in­ef­fec­tive. At Rahul’s in­sis­tence Min­is­ter of State for Home Af­fairs, Ji­ten­dra Singh has met Omar twice on the is­sue of em­pow­er­ment of panches and sarpanches. On 27 Septem­ber, a del­e­ga­tion of sarpanches met Rahul at his 10, Jan­path res­i­dence in Delhi and re­quested him to visit the state and in­ter­vene on their be­half.

Ear­lier, J&K Congress Pres­i­dent Sai­fud­din Soz shared with the me­dia a let­ter he had sent to Omar im­press­ing on him the need to “adopt or in­cor­po­rate” the 73rd Amend­ment in the state Con­sti­tu­tion to em­power pan­chay­ats. Omar shot back that the two Congress min­is­ters had, in a meet­ing, op­posed the del­e­ga­tion of more pow­ers to the pan­chay­ats. The CM also re­jected the Congress de­mand for adoption of the 73rd Amend­ment.

“We will em­power pan­chay­ats and pro­vide them ev­ery­thing un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion of J&K. At a suit­able time, we will make amend­ments in our Con­sti­tu­tion to give greater power to pan­chay­ats,” said Omar.

While the two par­ties set­tle po­lit­i­cal scores, the panches continue queu­ing up with their res­ig­na­tions. And even if the gov­ern­ment is able to gen­er­ate some con­fi­dence in the pan­chayat sys­tem, it is un­likely that the at­tacks will not re­cur, par­tic­u­larly af­ter the me­dia at­ten­tion the killings have gar­nered. This may have al­ready ful­filled the pri­mary aim of the at­tacks. With in­puts from

Ash­har Khan

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