Local body elections and Kashmir issue!
By: Muzamil Manzoor & Shahjhan Mustafa
Elections are imperative for peace-building and in the contemporary international norms elections are used as a potential conflict management strategy as these tend to mould the competition in a given society towards a constructive process. It is the peaceable and rule bound method to end social and political differences. When people have the choice to elect their leaders to accomplish their demands they feel it unnecessary and superfluous to resort to violence.
However, elections in Kashmir have always been a challenging exercise. It has not only faced huge opposition but also major boycotts from many years for reasons that the people here believe that elections have been a root cause for strengthening the Indian rule here in Jammu and Kashmir. Discussions are going on that new faces who are taking part in elections have created a new ‘mainstream’ in the state by contesting in local and Panchayat elections. But a valid question that comes to mind is that if contesting elections in Pakistan administered Kashmir is not going to alter the status of Kashmir issue then how will it make a difference if some youngsters are undertaking the same drill in Indian Administered Kashmir?
A basic analysis throws two main reasons for such prevalent understand of elections and election processes that seem to have created this stereotype. First, the narrative created within India when 2014 colossal voter turnout was declared to be people’s final choice to join India. Second the faction of spoilers who for personal interests want Kashmiri people should remain poor and subjugated and on periodic basis declare contesting elections unholy and profane.
Local bodies and Panchayat elections are being held under newly appointed Governor Mr. Satya Pal Malik. Debating these elections, one should have full understanding of the nature and requirement of these elections.
Urban Local bodies which includes municipal council or committee have authorization over two main sectors: one of which is to draw plans for economic development and social justice and another is to accelerate the performance of functions and implementation of the schemes including safeguarding the interests of the weaker section, slum refinement and up-gradation, promotion of cultural and educational facets, and other developmental works. Panchayat Bodies are also meant for the developmental works but at village level. Panches and Sarpanches acts as a bridge between the village people and administration. Their function is to represent the voice and the opinion of the people, moreover it serves as a village level institution which has authority to solve the disputes among their people, communities and also they are appointed for an all-round development of the village including proper sanitation, promotion of education, health, agriculture and communication facilities. The institution keeps an eye to the records of the departments, keeps the checks and balances and also works as a watch dog to curb the possibilities of corruption and misgovernance. They have full authority to conduct meetings with the officials, bring out the faults and setbacks to the higher authorities.
In our personal experience, in our village the road which leads to the agricultural fields has been blocked by some of the natives of my village and due to this the whole populace here faces inconvenience because even in the technological era the agricultural materials are now being carried by labourers. Now question is whom should we blame? There is no local authority that we can approach.
We actually want to mention that due to the wrong deeds of some elected representatives- be at Urban or Panchayat levels- faith of the people was bruised and they generalized it for all. The mistrust among people and above mentioned bodies have changed the mind-set of the people towards the Local elections, but we can’t blame the whole system, can we?
We should draw a line between the Kashmir issue and issues of Kashmir. Two Major political parties of Kashmir-NC and PDP have boycotted the Urban and local Elections in safeguarding the Special status of Jammu and Kashmir, particularly Article 35A, which guarantees the people of Jammu and Kashmir as permanent residents of the state and confers, on them, special rights and privileges. It is worth mentioning here that with this boycott, BJP is making ground on village levels also. On one hand Kashmiri’s voted for NC and PDP to keep BJP away, on the other by not even challenging BJP, the political parties are giving way to this national party to make inroads even at the village levels.
Keeping in view the sentiments of common masses and with maximum reverence to feeling of ‘Right to self determination’ we will still need institutions at ground level for all round development of the society. We cannot wait for final political solution of Kashmir to safeguard our natural resources and environment. We need a system to provide best education and proper health care to our society.
Shahjhan Mustafa is an independent researcher and writes on International Affairs and South Asian History. He can be mailed at [email protected]
Muzamil Manzoor is a student of International Relations (Peace and Conflict Studies).He can be mailed at [email protected]