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Reflections on Democratic Decentralisation in J & K

Lack of experience in grassroots democracy has led to the state and bureaucracy being alienated from the people in Jammu and Kashmir all these years. Strengthening the panchayati raj institutions will not only lead to effective governance but also to greater development and a better integration of the people within the state as well as the Indian union.


Reflections on Democratic Decentralisation in J & K In general, the mechanism and modalities for restoring peace in J & K and bridging the Indo-Pak divide is an ongoing issue. They may vary from debate on the
past insistence on a plebiscite, trifurcation
of the state, demilitarisation in the identi-
Ashish Saxena fied region, opening of routes across the

Lack of experience in grassroots democracy has led to the state and bureaucracy being alienated from the people in Jammu and Kashmir all these years. Strengthening the panchayati raj institutions will not only lead to effective governance but also to greater development and a better integration of the people within the state as well as the Indian union.

Ashish Saxena ( teaches at the department of sociology, University of Jammu.

Economic & Political Weekly

march 1, 2008

he Indian government’s authority in Kashmir has always been tenuous, and Kashmiri support for full integration rather uncertain. The background factors responsible for this fall into four categories. First, factors that weaken Indian sovereignty, including Kashmir’s status as disputed territory, lingering demands for a plebiscite to decide its final status, and a special auto nomous relationship with the central government. Second, geographic and demo graphic separateness. Third, a historical lack of democracy and press freedom, and fourth, changing political mobilisation during the 1970s and 1980s that posed new challenges to India’s political leadership [Meyerle 2005]. Similarly, on the issue of insurgency in Kashmir, Prakash (2000: 331) is of the view that militancy in Kashmir has been motivated solely by political considerations. His study unearthed the economic roots of the imbroglio by assessing factors that shaped the agricultural and industrial policies of the state. Additionally, it has demonstrated that even supposedly benevolent decisions, such as equitable land ownership, can be debilitating to production.

Against these backdrops and with regard to the recent development in Jammu and Kashmir (J & K), Behera (2007: 362) is of the view that states have emerged as the new pathways to power, a decisive change from the first three decades of independence when the centre was the avenue of choice. Liberalisation and economic reforms are aiding and accelerating this shift of power from the centre. Similarly, Meyerle (2005: 26) too emphasises that “Any realistic path to a solution of the present violence must involve the building of new political and admini strative institutions capable of mediating conflict – both at the provincial and national level. These institutions should be as small and localised as possible.”

line of control (LOC), exchange of intellectuals and scholars, peaceful dialogue process and many others. At this juncture, Pakistan – the power player in this whole matrix – was also viewing the resolution of Indo-Pakistan relations in terms of division of the state into seven regions, “demilitarisation”, “self-governance” and “joint management”, which India did not agree to [Parthasarthy and Radha Kumar 2006].

These moves may lead to achieving transitory peace in Jammu and Kashmir, but are they going to be permanent solutions to the peace-making process in India? Are there any alternatives from within that can lead to the healthy development of the state? This paper is thus a naïve attempt to judiciously re-think the possibilities and strategies from within, for development and setting up a peacebuilding mechanism in the existing J & K state.

Big Integration

The mechanism suggested above may be welcome but may not be realistic in the long run. What is needed is to move from “discourse” to “effective execution”. The imperative need is to focus on “emotional, economic and political integration” of J & K at the micro (within state) level as well as the macro (Indian state) level. It may be treated as a way out for restoring peace by inculcating and sensitising the people of J & K, to “sense of belonging” with the Indian nation in the true spirit.

What is needed is to reconcile the fragmented experiences with an honest march towards reconciliation, re-socialisation and restructuring of the available base. It may even involve adopting modern principles for neolearning of the past memories with more tolerance and an accommodating mindset. Keeping in mind this background, this paper is an attempt to theorise the underpinning of accord, amalgamation and synchronisation in J & K state. The emphasis here is on what


can be workable in the existing scenario with the available circumstances, rather than on alteration or transformation. Can we really search for a uniform principle whereby the plural J & K region and its masses can be intra-linked and interlinked at their respective levels and at a higher level?

The possible clue to the above query can be found in E Durkheim’s (1964) theory of solidarity. He speaks about the principle of integration, “organic solidarity model”, a social order through forced inter dependence. Keeping in mind Durkheim’s principle of solidarity and applying it to J & K’s situation, the crucial strategy for achieving the big integra tion shall not be through extra-imposition or isolation of the state but through wider interdependence and reducing the sense of alienation among the masses. The workable correlation will be: “enhancement of integration” is directly proportional to “declining alienation” among the masses.

Even the execution of integration should not be restricted only along political lines but also economic lines at the intra-state and inter-state level. Here we should affirm the effective implementation of the federal system at all levels and in both directions. Partha S Ghosh (1999: 233) says “Yet the BJP believes that as long as article 370 stays on the statute books, Kashmir will remain a somewhat special region where the sovereignty of India does not necessarily prevail. Article 370, it claims, ‘creates a psychological barrier between Kashmir and India... [and] gives indirect legitimacy to the two nation theory’.” This is a valid point. Incorporating this viewpoint, the focus should be more on organic linkage of the state to other states by peeling off the constraints created by article 370. The emphasis should be more on promoting trade and economic cooperation with neighbouring states. On the move towards bigger integration, Parthasarthy and Radha Kumar (2006: 11) too emphasised the guiding principles of self-governance as a means towards cooperation and peace-building in J & K.

To be precise and specific, economic liberalisation (through the tailored article 370) and effective political decentralisation (down-to-top model through the panchayati raj institutions) may lead to more viable integration, overall development and restoration of peace in the J & K state. Keeping in view the multidimensionality of the issue, this paper debates one dimension of “organic linkage” and thus focuses more on the potentialities and hopes of the assertive federal system. To be specific, here the focus is more on effective democratic decentralisation through panchayati raj institutions (PRIs), with the hope that it may lead to intra/inter linkage of the Jammu and Kashmir regions and also the macro-integration of the state with the Indian union.

Panchayati Raj Institutions

It is true that decentralisation, the essence of federalism, has to be made effective to reap the fruit of real democracy. What decentralisation can provide is discussed by M Govinda Rao (2000). According to him, it has a system of multilevel government and multilevel planning. Its execution may enable efficient allocation of resources, improve governance, accelerate economic growth, achieve a gender balance and empower weaker sections of society. To give a concrete shape to the concept of decentralisation in a federal set-up, at every level in the system of multi-level government, there has to be involvement of the people, endowed with a degree of autonomy in decision-making, relating to functions assigned to that level, within the framework of the Constitution that created the federation. The evolution of formal three-tier federalism subsequent to the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendment in 1992 qualifies the principle of federalism. It was realised that local government in democratic polities are likely to be more effective in providing certain goods and services than are national and provincial governments (ibid).

In this framework if we appraise J & K state, we find successful execution of democratic decentralisation during maharaja Hari Singh’s reign in 1935. Since then the metamorphosis of the panchayati system is taking place to justify the prevalence of local governance in the state. It was followed by the agenda of the New Kashmir Manifesto (1940s) and ultimately the J & K Panchayati Raj Act, 1989 which emphasised the implementation of local self-government and grassroots democracy in the state. In a broader spectrum, article 370, a perfect sign of decentralisation and state autonomy and further subsequent quest for state trifurcation for better regional power sharing, plea for self-rule by regional parties, etc, are glaring moves towards decentralisation.

Envisaging this background, it is encouraging that J & K state is a congenial

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setting for the success of measures like social transformation and democratic decentralisation and it might have been anticipated that the measure ensuring people’s participation in the affairs of the state would pull it out of the political turmoil and bring order and stability. Unfortunately, this could not happen in practice because of severe political crises in the state, insincere execution and lack of real implementation on the ground. Thus, the state is still facing the demise of “internal devolution”. It is appropriate to quote Sen and Dreze (2002) that in assessing the past achievements and future potential of Indian democracy, it is useful to distinguish between democratic ideals, democratic institutions and democratic practice. If we evaluate the previous attempt of local governance in J & K we find that the state has tried to follow the ideals of democracy. It has even partially succeeded in instrumentalising the democratic institutions but when it comes to the last parameter of democratic practice, then probably the state has failed.

A brief glance at the functioning of the PRI throws up significant observations. The J & K panchayat elections (follo wing the Panchayati Raj Act 1989) were held in January 2001 (after a span of 23 years) and the irony was that the election was held for ‘halqa’ panchayats (village level) only, whereas no attempt was made to hold elections at block (block development council) and district levels (district planning and development board). One can assess the effectiveness of this type of local government, lacking as it did the intermediate levels for effective coordination. Given the transition period in the state and the inexperience of the elected members, the activities of the halqa panchayats were rather muted even after its official implementation. This was evident in the J & K panchayat convention 2002-03 [Singh 2004: 30], where most of the elected panch and sarpanches were worried about devolution of power to them. Now that the term of the panchayat has ended in August 2006, there is no clear-cut guideline by the existing government about the next panchayat election. Of late, the process of delimitation of the constituencies had been declared complete, but going by the previous

Economic & Political Weekly

march 1, 2008

experiences, the rural masses and leaders are less enthusiastic about contes ting the next elections.

Local Self Government

  • (i) Local self government will bring effective governance implying accountability, transparency, participation, openness and the rule of law between the state, bureaucrats and masses.
  • (ii) Within this framework, the gram sabha (‘halqa majlis’) is really the cornerstone of the entire scheme of decentralisation. Face-to-face community interaction makes people the stakeholders in the power-sharing process leading to better participatory democracy.
  • (iii) As S N Ghosh points out (‘Six-tier Federalism a Must’), the vitality and strength of federalism come from ‘organicism’ (autonomy of organs, load sharing, buffering and containment of pressures and all-inclusive interlinkages serviced by a most efficient information and instant response producing system). Thus, implementation of all levels of PRI (on the lines of ‘organicism’) in the state will revitalise the essence of federalism at the grassroots level.

  • (iv) PRIs should carry out an impact evaluation or social audit of development programmes already in operation in their area. This will lead to investigation of development programmes in terms of their objectives, funds utilisation, justified expenditure, and social mobilisation among the beneficiaries. This will lead to genuine development of the state in general.
  • (v) Implementation of the 73rd amendment will lead to wider participation of the marginalised like SC/ST/women in the state [Saxena 2002], leading to higher integration of the socially alienated masses. In 2003 the 73rd amendment was implemented in the state, and it is hoped that there will be real decentralisation and participation of the marginalised masses.
  • (vi) Lack of awareness, knowledge and experience in grassroots democracy have become obstacles in the path of integration between the state, the bureaucracy and the masses. However, experience and knowledge bring power, a capacity for action. Exercising this authority and
  • making interventions based on knowledge and understanding would strengthen their position and empower them to discharge their role effectively.

    (vii) Establishment of effective local governance will ultimately lead to better allround interlinkage between the state, bureaucrats and masses. These halqa panchayats may act as checks against antistate elements in their local areas and can play a crucial role in combating militancy in the state. The panchayat members should be given extra powers to monitor the criminal activities in their area and they should be made accountable for any mishap in their jurisdiction. This will also strengthen the hands of the security forces for better control and surveillance of the state’s territory.


    Behera, Navnita Chadha (2007): ‘Kashmir: A Testing Ground’, Journal of South Asian Studies, 25, 3, pp 343-64, see URL. http:// 1080/ 00856400208723506

    Dreze, J and Amartya Sen (2002): Democratic Practice and Social Inequality in India, ISS, New Delhi.

    Durkheim, Emile (1964): The Division of Labour in Society, Free Press, New York.

    Ghosh, Partha S (1999): ‘BJP National Executive Committee Meeting in 1992’ in BJP and the Evolution of Hindu Nationalism, Manohar Publishers, New Delhi, p 233.

    Ghosh, S N (2006): ‘Six-tier Federalism a Must’, see at URL, http: 514/514%20 sailendra%20nath%20ghosh.htm.

    Meyerle, Gerald (2005): ‘Conflict Escalation in Kashmir: A Study in State-Society Breakdown’ paper prepared for delivery at the 2005 Annual Graduate Student Conference of the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics, March 29, University of Virginia, p 4.

    Parthasarthy, G and Radha Kumar (2006): Frameworks for a Kashmir Settlement, A Delhi Policy Group Publication, New Delhi.

    Prakash, Siddhartha (2000): ‘The Political Economy of Kashmir since 1947’, Contemporary South Asia, 9:3, pp 315-37, see: 713658753.

    Rao, M Govinda (2000): ‘Fiscal Decentralisation in Indian Federalism’, see URL, external/pubs/ft/seminar/2000/fiscal/rao.pdf.

    Saxena, Ashish (2002): ‘Women’s Representation in Panchayati Raj – A Study of Halqa Panchayat in Jammu Region’ in N A Mir (ed), Panchayati Raj – Why and How, J & K State Resource Centre, Srinagar.

    Singh, S (2004): Jammu and Kashmir Panchayat Conventions 2003, ISS, New Delhi.

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