Innovation is an important aspect of democracy. The most important part in any democratic set up is that how the basic issues of the people are accessed, assessed and addressed. Jammu and Kashmir has faced this problem the most as there exists a big gap between the ruled and the rulers.
Undoubtedly, the elected representatives have a clear responsibility to do the things that their constituents want, but over the decades it has been observed that the ruling classes have ignored this vital concept of connect with the masses. It is perhaps because of this gap that the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir has arisen. This situation is quite threatening for the very democratic fabric of the state, and it impacts the overall ratings of democracy in the country as well.
Viewed against this backdrop, the idea of “back to village” initiated by Governor Satya Pal Malik’s administration has broken many myths. The democracy means listening to the people at their doorsteps, understanding the circumstances in which they are living, feeling a pinch of the difficulties that impact their lives, and finding a way out of it. This was the essence of the initiative of “Back to village”. If continued and its feedback responded in a positive fashion, this concept can change the whole dynamic of the governance in the state.
Satya Pal Malik might have experimented with this idea to get a comprehensive feedback by deploying as many as 4500 officers for duty in villages. The feedback would be huge because the problems in villages exist in plenty. There can be area and demography specific problems particularly in the case of the people living in remote areas whose connectivity problem is acute than few others, or for that matter such areas are having health and educational facilities far away from their reach.
But there are some common problems too, like there is no regular water and power supply. The standing electric poles with no current running in them make a mockery of the electricity to every home and village in the state. While papers in the secretariat and other government offices might be full of the success stories, but the situation on the ground is different. There are multiple issues that the bureaucratic system wants to hide to cover its failures, but when they are made to visit the villages and report on their problems, there is a little room left for their maneuvering.
Bigger task is how to monitor the feedback and redress the problems of the people. And, for that the Governor Malik will have to devise a new and innovative mechanism like “back to village” concept to do justice with his own initiative. it is a challenge. But he has no other option but to accept this challenge, that he must have known will come to him when his administration thought of going to the villages to listen to the grievances of the villagers. And the way he has started, it is expected that he must have thought of the after-action mechanism as well. Next few days would be critical in knowing as to what happens next?
In simple terms, it can be said that Governor Malik has given an idea that can drill the grassroots democracy deeper into the landscape of Jammu and Kashmir – (a) this gives a sense to the people that they have a voice and that is heard out (b) Panchayats elected early this year on the non-party basis would feel empowered, especially when they saw the officers rushing to their villages, sitting amidst them, and recording their problems. All this gives a sense of empowerment to the people, a crucial and critical element in the grassroots democracy.
In fact, this concept, if studied closely was started by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1970s when he launched the programme of single-line administration. His cabinet would sit in the districts and hear everyone out and decide the matters on the spot. Over the years, however, this idea was diluted because the impatience and apathy of the leaders prevailed over the urgency to know the problems.
Now this back to the village programme can shift the gears and deliver governance at the doorsteps if it is followed up in letter and spirit. A way has been found, there, however, is need to carry it forward unless all the parameters of this initiatives are met with the success that was at the root of this idea.