Launching a veiled attack on the ruling National Conference, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday said “if Jammu and Kashmir is to be changed, we need to empower panches, sarpanches, leaders of local bodies and women”.
But when Gandhi asked the 4,000-strong convention of elected local body heads in Jammu, “What are the rights of panches, sarpanches and local body representatives in Jammu and Kashmir?” He drew a mixed response. While some started applauding, others started protesting, raising slogans against the state government demanding empowerment.
In J&K, even though panchayat elections were held three years back after a gap of three decades, the process of second and third tier — block development council and district development and planning boards — with reservation for SCs/STs and women, hasn’t been completed. Militants targeting panches and sarpanches have further aggravated the situation.
It started as a murmur early on during the 10-minute speech when Gandhi acknowledged that the Congress itself had not guaranteed rights to them and this needed to be changed.
“If he (Gandhi) has come to address our problems then we should have been given audience with him. Panches and sapranches were not even allowed to address the gathering and the show was hijacked by MLAs, MLCs who are blocking our rights. We are getting mere assurances,” said Prikshit Singh, sarpanch from Ramnagar tehsil, distict Udhampur.
Singh started raising slogans even as Gandhi was speaking, following which some of the representatives rushed towards a temporary dais.
The atmosphere got further charged when media started covering them But then some people started raising slogans in favour of Gandhi after which things cooled down and he went near the barricades to meet them.
“If the Congress is serious about giving us our rights then what is stopping it as it’s in the government. Why don’t Congress ministers and MLAs resign?” said Ghulam Rasool, sarpanch from remote Baujwan area of Kisthwar district.
Rahul reaches Srinagar
After addressing a rally in the state's winter capital Jammu, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi reached Srinagar in the evening on Wednesday.
He met a number of delegations of artisans and skilled workers in the evening.
Rahul, who is on a two-day visit to the state, will inaugurate a 5000 metric tonne controlled atmospheric store for horticulture produce in Lassipora, Pulwama, in South Kashmir. The Congress leader will later meet and interact with women members of a self-help group 'Umeed' in central Kashmir. The Rs. 900-crore programme dedicated to skill development for women was launched by Rahul in June this year.
Rahul is scheduled to address Congress workers on Thursday afternoon.