Analysis | Govt. views grassroots development in Kashmir as biggest hope for peace

The focus is on devolution of power to Block Development Councils before winter arrives

September 30, 2019 06:27 pm | Updated 06:33 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Security personnel stand guard at Manda area, in Ramban district, in Jammu and Kashmir on September 30, 2019.

Security personnel stand guard at Manda area, in Ramban district, in Jammu and Kashmir on September 30, 2019.

The Jammu & Kashmir administration has announced polls to 316 Block Development Councils (BDC) in the State, as the next step to devolution of power. The State is currently undergoing a widespread communications clampdown and the date of polls has been declared as October 24, a week before J&K and Ladakh are declared Union Territories.

The background

This follows the Panchayat polls conducted in December 2018, which were boycotted by the two big regional parties — the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party. The successful conduct of that poll, except in certain pockets of south Kashmir where polling percentages were low, had two positive spin-offs. The first was the unlocking of ₹2,700 crore worth of funds for Panchayats, awarded to the State under the 14th Finance Commission, that could not be disbursed earlier as there had been no local body polls in the State since 2010. The second spin-off is related more to what the government wishes to accomplish in J&K, namely real devolution, empowering local bodies and bringing the administration to the grassroots. The hope is that with money being available to elected Panchayat leaders, grassroots level development will see a fillip. The government also hopes that these Panchayat leaders could form a level of leadership that could provide a political alternative to the current political parties and their leaders — leaders who, maintain government sources, have a vested interest in the perpetuation of a conflict economy in Jammu & Kashmir.

Where are the glitches?

There is, of course, a communications clampdown in J&K, soon to enter its 60th day. It was hoped that after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at the United Nation’s General Assembly, the clampdown would be eased. Instead, we have the announcement of the BDC polls, a democratic expression at a time when the Internet has been shut down in the Kashmir Valley.

Quite apart from all this, in the Panchayat polls of 2018 itself, there are certain Panchayats that are vacant, nearly 12,776 of them, according to figures released by the Jammu & Kashmir government itself. This figure includes Srinagar and Kulgam.

What’s the aim then?

Holding BDC polls, says the government, will provide a second layer of political leadership in a State where most of the political class is behind bars. It also points to the fact that political activity at the Assembly level — the Jammu & Kashmir Assembly has been under suspended animation since 2018 — is unlikely to be any time soon. It will also help reach development programmes to the grassroots levels.

As always, the weather too plays an important part in the government’s plans in J&K. The upcoming winter months will see a natural trough in levels of infiltration by terrorists from across the border, as the high mountain passes will be snowed over. To have some representative body in the wintry quiet of that, to provide some semblance of grassroots development, is the biggest hope for peace, according to the government.

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