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Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat elections: The mark of a new dawn and perhaps, a new destiny

From proclaiming slain terrorists such as Burhan Wani as freedom fighters, and even issuing postage stamps in their honour, Pakistan has done a lot to harm India’s peace and unity. It has gone to war on four occasions in its 70-year existence and has continuously indulged in activities both subtle and not so hidden to undermine internal harmony of its easterly neighbour.

Amongst its primary areas of interest lies the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir and it has successfully managed to create an environment where both the local Kashmiri as well as millions of citizen across other parts of India often question the ‘price’ that is being paid to ‘retain’ the state within the union of India. In what could possibly be the perfect foil to the decades-long psy-op played by Pakistan, the government of India’s decision to hold urban local body and panchayat elections in the state have the potential to change the conscious as well as the subconscious minds of the people of the state and make them play a greater role in their well-being.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that unbeknownst to the average Indian, the nation has been at war with Pakistan ever since it attained freedom from the British. The creation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was to counter the image of the Republic of India where the Constitution held everyone equal. Yet one of the first successful attempts to subvert India was to fabricate an idea that it was a nation where the minorities are not equal participants in nation building, ergo, secondary citizens.

Despite the fact that thousands of Muslims who migrated to Pakistan from India were treated as unequals and labelled ‘Mujahirs’ or in just over two decades of its creation Pakistan unleashed such a reign of terror on its own citizens that lived in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) that the country was split into two in 1971 or members of the Ahmadiyya Community that included the country’s first Nobel Prize laureate, Abdus Salam, were declared Non-Muslim by the then Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1973 and Pakistani Sikhs and Hindus undergoing religious discrimination ever since one could recall, Pakistan has always succeeded in making the world, and, ironically enough, even Indians themselves, believe that its India and not them where only the majority is making life hell for others.

In simpler words, this notion is what constitutes psy-ops and all attempts to further the Pakistani agenda have been at play for decades in India. As a nation, India has traditionally defined war in the conventional sense where battles are centered around the borders. While there has been an effort to change that approach, the biggest step in that direction is about to unfold. In addition to reestablishing democracy at the grassroots level in the state, the upcoming Panchayat elections in Jammu and Kashmir would also see a bevvy of activities that would perhaps for the first time in a long time truly make the regular citizen of the state a stakeholder in their own future.

To be held in nine phases between October 8 and December 11, the Urban Local Body and Panchayat elections are the first of their kind in the state since 2005 and 2011 respectively. They would see the direct elections of sarpanches of the Panchayats, which would not only ensure accountability but also enable the locals to directly deal with the issues that trouble them the most. The elections would also see the release of Rs. 4,335 Cr of 14th Finance Commission Central grants to the duly constituted local bodies, which, otherwise would have continued to remain unused by the people of the state. It’s not just about the funds but the Panchayats, like most other Indian states, would also get the functioning of the subjects within the 73rd Amendment of the Constitution of India that includes outfits such as the primary health centres, primary schools, Anganwadi Centers et. al.

Every panchayat would also have the power to generate their own funds from Building Permission Fee, Taxes on entertainment, advertisement, hoardings, various kinds of businesses & profession etc. that would now come under them. What’s more, the Home Minister Rajnath Singh in a statement issued on 28 September also said that going forward the local representatives would be responsible for the implementation of national schemes and their coffers would be supplemented by the both Central and State Government funds for MGNERGA, PMAY, ICDS, Mid-Day meal etc.

Once the locals understand the role they are poised to play in the shaping of their future, the responsibility of maintaining a peaceful environment to let the promise of a glorious tomorrow unfold by ensuring a safe today becomes paramount. Pakistan has been running campaigns to tell Kashmiris that their future is not secure with India and ‘freedom’ is the only way ahead but steps such as the financial powers of a standard Panchayat being increased over ten times from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 1 Lac, Block Councils assured to get two and a half lac rupees instead of twenty-five thousand, and the Chief Executive Councillors also serve as Chairman of all Tourism Development Authorities, it’s not just freedom that is going to come the regular Kashmiri’s ways but the liberty to also chart their own course.

With so much at stake, it’s only natural for the Central Government to assure the people of the state of their safety. Reiterating the Modi-government’s commitment to see the tenets of democracy cover the final mile in Jammu and Kashmir, the Home Minister tweeted that the Centre would deploy sufficient numbers of Central forces to ensure that the elections are held smoothly and the fact that the state would get an unprecedented additional 400 companies of troops more than puts across the point that how important this exercise is. It’s therefore quite shocking that two of the big local political parties the National Conference (NC) and the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) do not want to participate in this process of giving power to theaamKashmiri. Both parties have opted to boycott the polls due to the Central Government’s stand on Article 35A, which grants special privileges to residents of J&K.

The subconscious mind absorbs it all and the brain, more often than not, tends to believe certain things because somewhere it has been conditioned so. Up until now, the mentality of the Kashmiri was being targeted to shape a certain reality by Pakistan as a part of its official policy and by the separatists owing to vested interests. Now, as the possibility of the happy reality of the Kashmiri actually shaping their mentality, which has been constantly stopped either by the gun or propaganda, increases those who stand to lose their traditional strong-hold cannot help but expose themselves.

People within Jammu & Kashmir, as well as other parts of the country, are beginning to question the powers as they are recognising that facts are extremely stubborn things and no amount of wishful thinking or inclinations can alter reality. A Junaid Mattu resigning as the spokesperson of National Conference over disagreements with the party leadership’s stand to boycott the polls, The All J&K Panchayat Conference (AJKPC) slamming both the NC and the PDP for resorting to their old tactics of “blackmailing” the Centre and state administration for their vested interests are just indicators of how the common folk of Jammu and Kashmir might be getting tired of the way things persist and are ready to write their own destiny.

(Amrita Bhinder is a lawyer and the state spokesperson for BJYM, Chandigarh)

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