In a veiled attack on the National Conference, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi said Wednesday that elected village representatives needed to be empowered in Jammu and Kashmir.
Addressing a rally of Congress panches and sarpanches in Jammu, Gandhi made it clear that he was aware that they enjoyed virtually no powers in the state.
The situation will change only when the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments were implemented in Jammu and Kashmir, which has a constitution of its own.
"What are the rights of the panches, sarpanches and local body representatives in Jammu and Kashmir?
Answering the question himself, he said: "The fact is they have no rights at all. Our first and foremost priority is the empowerment of panches and sarpanches in Jammu and Kashmir.
"The work panches and sarpanches can do, no MLA or minister can do because the ministers and MLAs do not have access to information which the panches and sarpanches have."
It is widely known that the National Conference, the ruling party and a Congress ally, has been resisting the implementation of the constitutional provisions related to village representatives -- apparently due to silent opposition from ministers and legislators who feel their clout will then get diminished.
But Gandhi underlined that this needed to be done.
"We have a government in Jammu and Kashmir and we will continue to mount pressure for the implementation of 73rd and 74th amendments in the state.
"This is a struggle I will fight for you and I will continue to come here and mount pressure till you are given the powers without which you cannot function properly.
"For me, the most important thing is the future of the elected village representatives."
Gandhi said the other priorities of the Congress in the state were training thousands of local youths for employment and the empowerment of women.
"Youths have to be trained for work and women have to be helped. Through programmes like 'Himayat' and 'Umeed', thousands of youths are being trained for employment."
The Congress leader also spoke about the problems of refugees who came here from Pakistan and have settled in the state.
"The Congress will do whatever can be done for your rights," he said.
He said he had told chief minister Omar Abdullah that the legislation related to food security and land acquisition needed to be implemented in the state.
Just after Gandhi concluded his address, several panches and sarpanches stood up and complained that they had been promised for the last three years that they would be empowered. But this never happened.
In response, Gandhi reiterated that he would continue his fight to get them their constitutional rights.
Gandhi was accompanied to the meeting by Congress general secretary Ambika Soni and state president Saif-ud-Din Soz.
Earlier, Gandhi met Congress leaders at the party's headquarters here and discussed the political situation in the state.