ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Giving Kashmir's Panchayats Their Due

The Jammu and Kashmir state should rethink its approach towards local bodies.

The murder of a few panchayat members in Kashmir, followed by resignations or threats to resign by more than 200 elected village-level officials who fear for their lives, shows once again that the situation in Kashmir is far from normal. The killing of four panchayat leaders in the past year does not seem to be part of a pattern of violence targeting local body institutions, but the fear psychosis gripping elected officials underscores the fragility of “peace” in the Valley. Indeed, it is perplexing that just a year after being elected, a large number of panchayat members are declining to serve their constituents.

Panchayat elections were conducted in Jammu and Kashmir over 17 phases between April and June 2011. These elections were the most comprehensive polls since the outbreak of militancy in the state. They took place just a year after the massive protests in the Valley involving young Kashmiris pelting stones at security personnel and government buildings. That nearly 80% of the voters exercised their franchise in the party-less polls for the panchayats was a clear indication that the people, despite their alienation from the state and the widespread demand for azadi, con­tinue to have huge expectations from government and local self-government institutions for better delivery of services. However, instead of grabbing the opportunity to strengthen panchayati raj in Jammu and Kashmir, the Omar Abdullah government chose to score propaganda points by portraying the elections as yet another sign that conflict had ebbed in the Valley.

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