Amid the din, disputes and dust of the assembly polls the most significant current election has gone virtually unnoticed. The heaviest polling in the ongoing elections occurred in the Panchayat polls of Jammu and Kashmir. An estimated over 80 percent of the voters cast their ballots. They voted in defiance of the threatening call by separatist leaders to boycott the polls.
Why and how did this happen?
It happened not because of the police or security forces but because democracy took charge. After the commitment for Panchayati Raj in J&K a dramatic change has occurred in that troubled state. Director General Police (DGP) Kuldeep Khoda stated a 45 percent drop in militancy in Jammu and Kashmir was recorded from January to March compared to the corresponding period last year. The activists who seek reform through new laws and new institutions should ponder the implications of this development.
Give people self rule and they will guard the interests of their turf with courage and commitment. Self rule does not imply sovereignty. It implies democracy. In the various trouble spots across India where demands for separatism spout what people really want is democracy. Denied that, they confuse their plight with the lack of sovereignty. In a vast multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious continental nation like India to talk of democracy without a vibrant federal system is pure hypocrisy. The Directive Principles of our Constitution clearly demand federalism so strong as to make the primary unit of the village akin to a self sufficient republic.
The Panchayati Raj introduced in India thus far is but a half measure. For genuine self rule the real authority of governance must devolve to that segment of the citizenry that is affected by the issues to be addressed. In the words of British philosopher Harold Laski genuine authority stems from the coercive power of the state. That means authority over the police. Each administrative tier should be granted power over the appropriate level of police. For genuine Panchayati Raj a new and primary level of the police may need to be established that would be under the authority of the village Panchayat or the local Ward Council.
One has to reflect only on the fantastic data source against terrorism that such an arrangement would provide for Intelligence agencies at the national level to appreciate the benefits that would accrue from genuine federal democracy. It is the local people that best know who is coming or going and what suspicious activity is occurring in their respective neighbourhood. Was it not significant that Punjab police made little headway against militancy during Governor’s rule when it enjoyed draconian powers? The police successfully curbed militancy in Punjab only after Panchayati Raj was established in the state.
The mere introduction of Panchayati Raj in Kashmir after thirty years has shown splendid results. Terrorists are snubbed and polling is heaviest in India! As recently as last month J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah announced his commitment for devolution of power to an effective Panchayati Raj system. "You can take a firm message from here to the Centre that my Government is committed to Panchayati Raj in Jammu and Kashmir," he told the officers from the Centre’s Panchayati Raj Department. The CM who was berated for his ineffectual handling of militants a short while ago has shown spectacular results against them today. The magic does not lie in Mr. Omar Abdullah. It lies in Panchayati Raj. It may be recalled that the recent Panchayat elections in Jharkhand also showed heavy polling despite Maoist threats.
Should not a radical version of Panchayati Raj serve as the roadmap for political reform in India?