Panchs and Sarpanchs of Kashmir valley are again the target of unknown assailants. After a series of attacks on them in different parts of Kashmir, hundreds of Panchs and Sarpanchs in Budgam district have threatened en-mass resignation and a public apology. After celebrating the “success” of holding Panchayat elections after 30 years, the coalition government sold it to rest of the world as a “big achievement” in last 21 years of political turmoil.
Though on many occasions the government tried to delink it from the political problem, it was, however, seen and projected as a major indicator of normalcy thus putting the Panchayat members in danger. There is no doubt that the successful conduct of Panchayat elections in 2011 was a significant development but the way it was projected by different quarters as a “defeat” to separatists did not hold much water on the ground.
This resulted in irritation in a certain section for whom the Panchs and Sarpanchs became a soft target. The fact was that people had elected them only with the objective to get their day-to-day problems addressed. While on the one hand they became politically vulnerable on the other hand the government failed to empower them. This is a also a fact that in some areas these members tried to take everything in their own hands and also exploited the position which must have irritated one or the other section. But the larger issue is that problem was simply aggravated with the fact that they were seen as going against the tide. It is heartening to see that hardliner separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani has categorically denounced the killing of Panchs on ideological basis.
This is a good gesture and should go in a long way to create a space for ideological tolerance. But government needs to do much to reinforce confidence among the panchs and Sarpanchs. Providing security to each and every member of Panchayat may not be possible but their lives could be secured by delinking their functioning from the overall political issues of Kashmir. Besides empowering them the government should work towards a congenial atmosphere and desist from showcasing them every other day in Panchayat conventions to just get the pictures of ministers clicked to impress upon people that they have brought some “revolution”. It should allow this institution to work on its own without making these ground level workers more vulnerable.