Electing ‘maha-sarpanchs’

Touted to bring a new era of democracy in conflict-torn Kashmir, the elected members of Panchayat Raj institutions have been reduced to a mere specter of political opportunism. Amid allegations of corruption by the ruling coalition and the opposition, SHAH ABBAS sheds light on the controversies surrounding the upcoming legislative elections.

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The Panchs and Sarpanchs elected on non-party basis in 2011 are nowadays seen in big herds around the offices of mainstream political parties of Jammu and Kashmir. These Panchs and Sarpanchs are set to vote for the candidates of National Conference, People’s Democratic Party and Congress in Legislative Council polls scheduled on Dec 3. Touted to usher in a new era of democracy, the representatives of Panchayati Raj have merely been reduced to voters now.

Sources in the ruling National Conference, Congress and Peoples Democratic Party reveal that Panchs and Sarpanchs are being pleased by every mainstream political party using every possible means ever since the election process for the four reserved seats in LC started.

Chief Patron of Jammu Kashmir Panch Sarpanch United Forum (JKPSUF), Ghulam Nabi Mir, says, “As everybody knows that we live in a corrupt world, Panchs and Sarpanchs are the members of same society. So I can’t rule out corruption.”

“I was in Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s rally in Kulgam. In his speech, Omar sahib told the Panchs that since they were being offered Ristas and Kababs, his advice to them was that they must surely taste these Ristas and Kababs. ‘But when the time of voting comes, you must vote ignoring everything’,” said Mir, adding, “Every political party is trying to convince the voters by using different tactics and yes, corruption can’t be ruled out.”

“Politics is a game of opportunities. So we too are trying to grab more and more out of this opportunity and our main aim is to get empowerment. So we are trying to convince the political parties so that our goal is achieved,” said a Sarpanch who claims to have influence on more than 400 Panchayati representatives and often addresses media in Srinagar since his election.

After the death of a Sarpanch in north Kashmir , a large number of Panchs and Sarpanchs resigned by issuing paid advertisements in local dailies. The resigned Panchs and Sarpanchs had alleged that they were being used as scapegoats by the political parties of the state which had neither empowered them nor provided them any security.

Now when the elections for the four reserved seats in the legislative council are very close, the government revealed that it has not accepted any resignations of any Panch or Sarpanch from 4128 Panchayats spread across 22 districts of Jammu and Kashmir because they had not completed the essential formalities.

Rural development minister, Ali Mohammed Sagar, while talking to Kashmir Life, said, “Around 58 Sarpanchs had come forward with their resignations. But due to some technical issues, their resignations were not accepted.”

He added that the aggrieved Sarpanchs were asked to complete certain modalities so that their resignations were accepted. “They did not complete the formalities and hence the process remained incomplete. So no Sarpanch has resigned from any Panchayat,” Sagar added. He maintained that the process of resignation which an elected Panch or Sarpanch has to follow is not as simple as was speculated in the media.

Sagar is hopeful that every Panchayati representative will cast his vote and there will be hundred percent polling. “I think that every Panch and Sarpanch will participate in elections baring a few. To me, even 80 percent voting will be more than enough,” the minister said.

JKPSUF patron, G N, Mir says that given the circumstances prevailing in Kashmir, nothing could be said about the participation of the elected Panchayti Raj representatives in the elections. “The approval of insurance cover and the assurances about monthly remuneration will certainly encourage every Panch and Sarpanch to vote. These two steps even developed greed among Panchayati representatives and they refrained from resigning,” G N Mir said.

Regarding the newspaper reports that more than 500 Sarpanchs had resigned, sources in the government said that the rural development office did not receive any resignation letter. “We had tremendous pressure from our kith and kin because they were afraid of the situation. So what we did was we announced our resignation —

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