What does one do when the chief minister’s idea of combating a major issue at stake – of spiraling graph of killings of panches and sarpanches, of their enmasse resignations – lies in blaming either the media or the terrorists, the former for clinging on to what he deems a less worthy issue than the visit of a high profile dignitary, the latter for their “cowardly” acts.
What does one do, when he feels the matter can be laid to rest by a display of his machismo through his challenge to terrorists to attack him rather than the poor panches and sarpanches, a challenge delivered from within the high security walls, inside which he remains safely cocooned unlike the unprotected leaders at the grassroots who live with their equally unprotected masses. One doesn’t expect him to ape a B-grade Bollywood film hero, who throws his weapon away with the confidence of fighting and defeating an enemy with his bare hands. That is only reel world. But then it is not very impressive either to watch him cower behind his excessive Z plus security and shout, “come and kill me, you cowards!”
A chief minister is expected to have far greater vision than such childlike nuances of bravado. He is expected to probe the killings, analyse why they happen and take appropriate steps. Had he done that, he would have realised that there is more to the killings than coward terrorists. He may have also stumbled upon the truth that the anger of the sarpanches and panches does not simply stem from their lack of physical protection. Its genesis largely also lies in the denial to empower them and failure to fund them adequately enough to carry on the development work and bring in the necessary change for which they have been voted by the public.
After the magically surprising panchayat elections of 2010, in which people in rural areas voted enmasse, chief minister’s greatest folly, as also of the Centre, was to presume that this was a vote in opposition to a certain political ideology or a vote in favour of Indian supremacy or its democracy, which always comes in very adulterated form in Jammu and Kashmir. People voted not because the chief minister could celebrate the triumph of holding the elections as a major achievement but they voted because they wanted to decide about their day to day issues and neglected sectors of health, education, roads, water and employment at their own local levels and have a greater say in things. The panches and sarpanches they elected, however, were never given powers beyond holding panchayat ghar meetings and co-ordinating with NABARD on development works and offering part time employment to their people. They have little powers in supervising and monitoring these development works which are under the virtual control of bureaucracy at the block levels, violating the very spirit of panchayati raj.
If the chief minister had focused his energy on electing block and district boards to make the panchayati raj system genuine and more functional, instead of wasting his time on making panchayat elections as an icon of his glory, things may have panned out differently. Things would have been far more different, had the government gone ahead with a law, at par with the 73rd and 74th amendment of Indian constitution, or one even better to make the panchayats and urban local bodies better empowered to perform and address grievances of the people and not contributed to more anger against the government. It would have also made the lives of panches and sarpanches, who cannot be simply protected by extra-militarisation of their areas, less vulnerable. They can be better protected by winning the confidence of their people because violence can be best countered by engaging people with constructive democratic ways. And, it would also have enabled the chief minister to narrow down his rift with the coalition partner, Congress, rather than wishing it away by bashing media.
Much as he and his party men labour to deny the rift or play down the anger of the panches and sarpanche, ever since the panchayat elections, the bickerings have made front page news, so have the demands for empowering panchayats. The cracks are more visible now with central party leaders of Congress including Rahul Gandhi highly criticial of Jammu and Kashmir government’s methods of disallowing empowerment of panchayats. Whether this translates into something more disastrous for Omar Abdullah or not, his tweets won’t help him, for it is common knowledge that who the boss is, when it comes to Jammu and Kashmir. For a man, who could never win the support of his own masses, the boss’ wrath could make him a case of the poetic “Nah khuda hi mila na wisal-e-sanam./ Nah idher kay rahey na udher kay rahey.”