Azadi can be attained by Panchayat
ACROSS THE TABLE
SENIOR CONGRESS LEADER, MP RAJYA SABHA AND FORMER UNION PANCHAYAT RAJ MINISTER, MANI SHANKAR AIYAR, TALKS ABOUT VARIOUS ISSUES WITH GK SENIOR EDITOR ARIF SHAFI WANI, DURING HIS RECENT VISIT TO KASHMIR.
* How do you view holding of Panchayti elections in Jammu and Kashmir?
All fears of politicians have proved wrong. What we have seen in Jammu and Kashmir is a miracle of democracy. I think the whole of India should be brought here to see the situation in Kashmir when every candidate was threatened by the militants, and voters were told that they won’t return home alive if they would go to the polling booths.
Despite the threats, the minimum voter turnout has been 80 percent and in most of the places went to 90 percent. And I am sure that at individual villages, it reached upto 100 percent. There is no state in India where the importance of Panchayats to democracy, has been more effectively demonstrated, than in Jammu and Kashmir. My grateful thanks to the people of Kashmir and congratulations to the Omar Abdullah Government for having at long last held these elections.
* The Jammu and Kashmir Government had claimed that the Panchayat Elections will be held on non-party basis in the State. However, after the elections, the political parties are staking claims over the Panchs and Sarpanchs. Do you feel that in this scenario the Panchayat System can flourish in the State?
Surely it will flourish because all over the country, the Graham Panchayat elections are held on non-party basis. The party symbols are not given to them. You can’t stop political parties from trying to mobilize the elected representative and I don’t think it harms the system at all. I don’t see it constituting any threat or obstacle to the sound Panchayati system in Jammu and Kashmir.
* There are also reports that the bureaucracy is hampering the process of devolution of powers to Panchayats in Jammu and Kashmir? What steps can the Government take to address this problem?
This is not new. All over India wherever the bureaucracy has been entrusted with powers powers on rural development and welfare of people, there are laws to take away their powers as well. But bureaucracies are very sycophantic. If the political authority makes it clear that devolution is what it wants, it will definitely happen. But if the political authority is unclear as to what it wants, then the bureaucracy gets the signal and they fulfill their masters' wishes. They allow their masters to talk of devolution and themselves stop it from happening. It is largely a question of political will and political mobilization. I think bureaucratic can be easily overcome.
* A Sarpanch was allegedly beaten up by a senior administrative official in Kupwara when he went to him to resolve a public problem recently. Do you think there is conflict between the MLA, bureaucracy and Panchayat?
This is one stray example. During my meeting with elected representatives of Panchayats, I warned them that they should not move for having the concerned official beaten up by the Sarpanch, because if that will happen instead of Panchayat Raj, we have Sarpanch Raj in Jammu and Kashmir.
We have to be careful that Sarpanchs function in council alongwith all their Panchs unless they are responsible to the electorate. If that happens, this collaboration between the administration and the Sarpanch can create an atmosphere of trust between the bureaucracy and the newly elected political authority.
I will give you a good example of this. Untill August 14th 1947, the ICF was the single biggest enemy of the Congress party. On August 16, 1947, the same ICF became its closest collaborator because the bureaucracy has been trained to listen to the political authority.
So if the political authority asserts itself, there will be no conflict. So I don’t see these kinds of incidents becoming common. Surely, this particular incident has generated lot of interest among the elected leaders.
*How do you view the statement of United Jehad Council Supremo, Syed Salahuddin that Panchayat elections have nothing to do with Kashmir issue and militants won’t harm those who participate in it?
The militants threatened them and after they felt they were not frightened, they changed their course. However, in a sense he (Salahuddin) is right. The Kashmir issue was not linked to the elections which were for the development at the grassroots. If effective Panchayati Raj system takes places in Kashmir and paves way for grassroot development, then the so-called Kashmir issue will go into the air. It is total dissatisfaction with the developmental process in the village and slums of Kashmir that is the root cause of dissatisfaction and militancy.
* You had recommended several changes in the appraisal paper of the 11th 5 year plan for the Panchayats. Why weren’t the changes incorporated in it?
The Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Dr Montek Singh Ahulawali has honestly stated that while we have achieved accelerated growth, our single biggest failure in the 11th Plan has been actually to achieve intrusive growth. I have been stressing it not because I think so but my mentor Rajiv Gandhi believed that we can’t get intrusive growth without inclusive governance which means Panchayati Raj. I had made a very large number of suggestions most of which were rejected. There has been some progress during the 11th Plan not because of the Planning Commission but due to Sonia Gandhi who created new ministry called Panchati Raj. But I am hoping as I have written to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Chairman Planning Commission that if the 10th Plan was for accelerating growth, the 11th Plan was for sustained growth because we had the global economic downturn, the 12th plan should become the plan of inclusive growth. For that I have suggested to the PM that on the line of the Balwant Rai Mehta study group report of 1967 which induced Jawahar Lal Nehru to start Panchayati Raj system in the country and Ashok Mehta Committee report of 1978 which was one of the sources of inspiration for Rajiv Gandhi 33 years after Mehta’s report, time has come for establishment of a new committee to look into how Panchayati Raj is actually being implemented in the country and recommend measures so that Panchayati Raj can become the heart of 12th 5 year plan. If the Panchayati Raj is implemented in the Plan, I assure you that by 2017 , we will have inclusive growth. And if it is not included in the Plan, then the situation can go out of hand.
* You recently stated that the situation had not changed because of the dependency on same bureaucracy about which Rajiv Gandhi had said that out of one rupee spent on development only 15 paisa reaches the people? Can you explain it?
I want to maintain that unless we de-bureaucratize all the developmental schemes, and entrust them to the panchayats, the money is not going to reach the people. At the moment, 85 paisa is being spent on administration and 15 paisa on people. You give the funds to Panchayats, maybe 15 paisa will go in corruption but 85 paisa will reach people. Therefore the answer lies exclusively in replacing the bureaucratic delivery system by self-delivery by Panchayats.
Proof of this is that between 1994 and 2011, the expenditure on social sector and anti-poverty program by the Centre has gone up 17 times from Rs 7600 crore to 1, 65,000 crore. But India’s position in the United Nations Human Development index which was 134 in 1994 still remains at 134. Outcome, there are not relationships to outlays. And the reason for it is outlays go through 139 different centrally sponsored schemes each of which has its own bureaucratic delivery schemes to the same beneficiaries -the poor. Instead if you want to directly get money to the poor, then we have to authorize the gram sabha to implement the schemes in favour of the poor, then our outcome will be commensurate with our outlays.
* You have been maintaining that people are losing faith on the politicians as they feel powerless and underscored the need to empower Panchayats for more devolution of powers. Do you feel that the Panchayati Raj system is still in infancy given its least participation in implementation of developmental schemes in most of the states?
There is no doubt Panchayati Raj in most of our country is still in its infancy. But there are some states which have made a progress in this regard. Broadly speaking the Southern and Western states have progressed. Northern and Eastern India need to progress more, But that does not mean there is no progress in northern India. For example the states of Haryana and HP have recorded impressive improvement. Nitish Kumar in Bihar is making a huge effort.
The Bangla model of panchayati system impressed Rajiv Gandhi. Nagaland, has won a UN prize for having a best Panchayati system. Sikkim too has made considerable progress. We need replication of good practices in all states. I don’t describe kerala or karnataka as perfect in Panchayti Raj system but they too have made progress. I hope that Panchayats in Kashmir and Uttrakhand will also make good progress.
The Centre must incentivise the Panchayati Raj system. I think the states which make progress, should be provided more funds. The Panchayats should be made accountable by performance based awards like the Nirmal Gram Puraskar. The Panchayat Raj system is the perfect answer but it has to be implemented perfectly. If you don’t implement the Panchayat Raj system perfectly, you end up with Sarpanch Raj which means Pervez Mushraff in every village. We have to be very careful. The line dividing the local dictatorship from local democracy is very thin. Now as people have got elected representative, who will have to go back to them after five years, they should empower them and if they fail in their endeavor, give some other candidate opportunity to serve them.
* How important is the Panchayati Raj system? .
I think the Prime Minister of India should be the Panchayat Raj Minister and if not then the Panchayat Raj minister should be the Deputy PM. That is how important the Panchayati Raj is to the future of our Country.
*Kashmiris have been maintaining that unless Kashmir issue is resolved all the developmental activities are futile?
People of Kashmir have given the answer in the Panchayati elections. This is the fundamental answer not only to militancy in Kashmir but naxalism in one-third of our country. We can save our country if we make development equitable. The only way we can ensure development equitable is the Panchayati Raj. The faster the GDP grows and slower the Panchayat Raj grows, the greater is the danger to both democracy and development.
* Government of India has announced Confidence Building Measures last year for restoration of peace in Jammu and Kashmir. But they are still to be implemented on the ground? Over a thousands people are still behind bars for participating in last year’s agitation. Do you think New Delhi’s need to do more than announcing CBMs?
Government of India should definitely do more. Law and order and administration are state subjects everywhere in India. And in case of Jammu and Kashmir, we have to be more careful as it is the only Riyasaat that has its own constitution. Furthermore Article 370 requires the Central Government to be more sensitive to the opinion of the Kashmiri legislature with regard to what happens in the State. At the same time the GoI can’t absolve itself of the responsibility for ensuring peace and tranquility in the State.
CBMs are necessary part of the process and earnest, sincere implementation of whatever has been announced is also very important. I would certainly like to see the Prime Minister and the Home minister very frequently in the Valley.
When I worked with Rajiv Gandhi, I can’t count the number of times we were in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. So the physical presence of head of the Government in troubled spot is part of the process to resolve the issue.
So the principle responsibility vests on the State Government which is democratically elected. But I don’t think that the Centre can get away with saying that Kashmir is a state’s problem.
* Kashmir faces many environmental issues like felling of trees and pollution of water bodies. Do you believe that the Panchayats can help solve the issues?
This is the only way we can solve environmental issues. Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh has taken a historic step in making the joint forest management committees which included the Panchayats representatives. I would have preferred that the management to be under the Panchayats because at the end of the day environmental protection has to be provided by the people. All environmental issues around the Country should be resolved in consultation with the elected representatives.
* The State Government is yet to act against the cops and security forces involved in killing of civilians in last years agitation. Don’t you feel that justice, by now, must have been done?
I fully agree with you that there can be no peace without justice. But at the same time, I want to point out this on the Ist death anniversary (of Tufial Matoo), a hartal had been called. But the people of Srinagar didn’t seem to be observing it. 200 Sarpanchs and Panchs from all over the State participated in a meeting with me in Srinagar. I don’t think that people feel nothing has been done. But I am sure that they feel enough has not been done. Therefore I believe it should be priority of the Government to give justice. The more that is done, the better it would be.
But we have to respect the Jammu and Kashmir’s constitution which holds the State Government responsible for its actions. What happened last year was not done by the Army but the Jammu and Kashmir Police, most of whom are Kashmiris. Therefore some introspection is needed. Merely living the horror of what has happened is not enough. Matam to Hogaji.
Fortunately, after August last year things have been pretty peaceful here. I think whatever the criticism one may make of the interlocutors, things have been somewhat under control since they came and there is a feeling that somebody is trying to do something about it (Kashmir issue).
I am honoured that the interlocutors are often asking me to meet them. I will be meeting them next month in Jammu. Things are bad but not so bad in Kashmir. There was an expectation that this will be a long hot summer. Atleast it has began well and there are many months to go for the summer and I don’t want to be boastful and I don’t want to be proven wrong.
Infact, I came with Junoon group here in May some years ago. And suddenly in June the volcano blew. In Kashmir one can never tell you what will happen next.
*Government of India started the much-hyped Cross-LoC trade. But the traders complain that they don’t have any banking and other facilities? It’s a blind trade. How do you view it?
Promises have been made to the people here. The Cross-LoC trade has a huge impact. I am a frequent visitor to Pakistan and even since it was declared in Mushraff’s time that there can be no exchange of territories and population but the border should be rendered irrelevant, even in Pakistan they stopped to talk about plebiscite.
Whatever we can do to build upon and improve Kashmiri to Kashmiri's relationship, it should be done. We should work deliberately in the direction to make the LoC irrelevant.
On the impact of other side, whatever you require additionally the Government of India should give it. It is self-defeating if we are delaying these matter.
The separatists have a Kashmiri issue. I have a Kashmir issue. Basically what we need is that people of Kashmir should feel that they are respected, that they are getting equity and justice, that they are part of chain of progress, that they are secure in their homes and that their faith is not being transgressed. The Kashmir issue is to make the Kashmiris reassure that they can lead their life with dignity and without dilution of their identity. That is actually happening in our part of Kashmir. Leave alone the people of Kashmir in Pakistan, the Pakistani people have no such freedom.
If Sheikh Abdullah would not have been there, Pervez Mushraff would have been sitting on your head, Zia-ul-Haque would have been your president. The Taliban would have been wandering in the Valley. I see you are clean shaven, you would have probably lost your head, if Sheikh Abdullah would have brought Kashmir into Pakistan. You would have been a frontline state in America’s war against terrorism in Afghanistan. So you are very lucky that Sheikh Abdullah had the wisdom to keep all of Jammu and Kashmir inside India. Unfortunately, Jinnah stole and his cohort stole one third of the riyasat.
* What is the solution to Kashmir?
I don’t know whether during mine or my children’s lifetime, we are ever going to see that part of Kashmir restored to India. Just as I am certain neither Geelani (Hurriyat G Chairman) or anybody else is going to see this part of Kashmir handed over to Pakistan. It is a fact of history and geography.
There are two separate dimensions. One is internal problems in Kashmir that needs to be resolved between the State and the Central Govenrment. Problems are in every state but the only difference is that there is continuity of dialogue. But in Kashmir there is status-quo. There is also an international dimension because fact of the matter is that part of Kashmir is in Pakistan and Pakistan is claiming our Kashmir as well and have made it a big national issue for themselves.
So we have to also bring people of Pakistan and Kashmir around to accepting at minimum the status-quo. You can’t do this by keeping Pakistan in dock as our television commentators do on daily basis. I think Arnob Goswami does more harm than almost anybody. Ignoring him, the Government of India, should engage like it did during Mushraff’s regime, in continuous heartfelt, sincere dialogue with Pakistan to sort out the issue.. The domestic dimension and international dimension should not be mixed up.
* How do you construe Azadi for Kashmiris?
Let me explain. My very good college friend Khurshid Kashuri argues any solution must be acceptable to people of Kashmir. I don’t think it will be acceptable to people of Kashmir to suffer the horrors that Pakistan has suffered. If you have even the half-baked idea that what Azad Kashmir will be like, then the consequences will be same like Jinnah having a half-baked idea about the type of Pakistan he wanted. He did no know what he wanted. He only wanted to slap Gandhi and Nehru. He got his country. If there is a Muslim population in south Asia, which is really suffering, it is the Muslims in Pakistan.
Nearly 10 years ago, I was attending a lecture by Najam Sethi of Friday Times on India-Pakistan in Delhi and he described with great sort of enthusiasm the horrors of the military dictatorship in Pakistan. He finally ended by saying India is responsible for all this because it has not handed over Kashmir to Pakistan. I stood up and said if life of 120 million Pakistani Muslims is as awful as you just told us, then why should three million people of Kashmir Muslims, join you. Because of this question, Najam was arrested on return to Lahore and jailed for a month.
Please be careful. Before you talk of Azad Kashmir define Azadi. My definition of Azadi is that Kashmir does not need to be Azad. Kashmiris need Azadi which can be attained by Panchayat. The key is there and Kashmiris have only to open the door to freedom.
Lastupdate on : Sun, 12 Jun 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sun, 12 Jun 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Mon, 13 Jun 2011 00:00:00 IST
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