Panchayat raj is not a new concept in J&K. There used to be Panchs in every village and a hamlet that would sort out social issues and disputes of trivial nature in their area. It used to be a non political organization that you call an NGO these days. The number of panchs had to be five hence the organization assumed the name of a Panch. Panchs were selected by the community on the basis of their integrity, morals and track record of social work and were not voted to the red carpet through rigging the ballot or buying the voter. I am talking of pre democratic era when institutions were not politicized. Unfortunately with the advent of the present day democracy even matrimonial relations are politically motivated! Panchs would get the essential requirements of the village like building lanes and drains constructing lavatories and bath rooms or even constructing small link roads through self help by the active participation of the community called 'Hala Sheri.' One such road was constructed in my childhood from Chawgam to Lamad in Tehsil Kulgam when the cooperative movement in Kashmir was at its zenith and the so called democracy had not grown its draconian canines. Present day pseudo democrats have commercialized the sacred institution of Panchayats by politicizing the basic concept of self help into a government sponsored murky NGOs rendering the panchs vulnerable to the wrath of disgruntled element of the society. At the same time though the recent elections to the Panchayats were apparently conducted on non party basis yet the panchs elected were unfortunately tagged to one or the other political organization spoiling the essence of the neutrality of this sacred institution. No doubt the glitter of Politics is tempting and as such the panchs at places might get unwittingly involved in this foggy game at the cost of a splendid cause of the institution.
Jammu and Kashmir is unique in its character and has unique issues of its own. We need to understand its sensitivities and address its problems accordingly. Jammu and Kashmir has never asked for the glitter of Bombay neither is it craving for the volatility of Karachi. That is why it couldn't blend in the two till date. That is why its Pundits despite having all the amenities away from their homes are craving to get back to their homeland. I mean to convey what is applicable through NEREGA etc; to the plains of India cannot apply to the mountains of Himalayas. It looks absurd to build roads and take vehicular traffic to the Himalayan tops of Amarnath disturbing our flora and fauna and wasting national resources while the same is definitely needed in the planes of Jharkhand or UP. We need to apply our mind for what to do where and when to do it. If J&K has its own constitution what is the need of applying commandments from across its boundaries inviting all the misunderstandings at the cost of our much needed peace for the prosperity of the state. It is also true political parties have issues between themselves which they need to sort out amongst themselves. Our politicians need to understand they shouldn't take a refuge under article 370 or our state constitution and spoil their sanctity because these clauses of law are important for the nation while the politicians themselves are dispensable.
Now that the institution of Panchayat has come in to existence once again we need to see how this establishment takes roots and functions for the betterment of the nation. That can never happen by accusations and counter accusations or foolhardy statements of our crafty politicians. At the same time it will be childish to raise fingers on anybody for the clandestine mortalities of Panchs. It is an established fact Kashmir has agencies within agencies and raising fingers without plausible proofs belittles the politicians beyond repairs. Panchs are a part and parcel of the J&K society and accordingly are conscious of their rights and responsibilities. You can never guaranty the safety of a system by delegation of powers that is a process and shall take its required time. You can only make the system a 'holy cow' if you keep it away from politics because as I said politics of J&K has issues that has inherent jeopardy too. Our Panchs at the same time need to understand that the trust people of J&K have reposed in them is totally different than that of politicians like MLAs or MPs and MLCs that are a salaried lot while the panchs with an honorarium for the honor wrested by the nation in them has its own dignity. Unfortunately the inherent quality of power is that it changes its venues as somebody has rightly said, 'Time you old gypsy man where have you been-Last week in Rome and last week in Babylon', while that is not true of respect and love that a Panch receives for his genuine efforts for the service of mankind. Badshah, 'Zain ul Aabdin', the great king of Kashmir is no more but he will always be remembered for the canal that he constructed for the irrigation of thousands of acres of Karewa land in south Kashmir diverting the waters of Lidder coming from Pahalgam at Ganeshpora similarly the elders of Islamabad are alive for the construction of Hanafiya school through self help and 'Halla Sheri' about seventy five years back.
(The columnist is the author of the book, 'Kashmir in search of peace.' Feedback at email@example.com)