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Panchayat poll major challenge for Omar

india Updated: Feb 11, 2011 00:08 IST
Arun Joshi
Arun Joshi
Hindustan Times
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In most states the periodic holding of panchayat elections is a routine matter. Not so in Jammu and Kashmir. It was a bold decision of chief minister Omar Abdullah to announce on Wednesday that three-tier panchayat polls in the state would be held in April-May.

As in many other states, the panchayat polls will be party less - no candidate will be permitted to flaunt any party allegiance.

The last panchayat poll was held in 2001 under the looming shadow of guns across the Kashmir Valley, with militancy still at a high. The term of those elected ended in 2006, but no polls have been held since then.

Without panchayati raj institutions (PRIs) functioning, most villages have been denied both development and representation.

Serious reservations, however, have already been expressed about the panchayat polls.

The most important of them: such a poll has little meaning in a state where the 73rd and 74th amendments - giving constitutional status to PRIs and devolving much more power to them - has not been passed.

In a rare show of unanimity, opposition parties from the Mehbooba Mufti's People Democratic Party (PDP) to the BJP, have agreed that these two amendments are vital.

"This in not acceptable," said Mehbooba Mufti.

"It is another attempt to scuttle democracy," said a BJP spokesman in Jammu.

The other major issue is of course security.

In 2001, despite heavy security presence, voting could be held in only around 50% of the panchayats. To reinforce the view that militancy is on the decline, Omar Abdullah will have to ensure a much higher turnout this time.

There are also fears that the entire three-tier voting process may be abandoned midway, following pressure from vested interests.

"There are elements in the government which do not want panchayat polls held as these would reduce their powers. Unless a firm timetable in set well in advance, I have my fears that the government may not ultimately hold elections at the block and district levels," said Tahir Mohi-ud-din, editor of the Urdu weekly Chattan.

A meeting of the National Conference and Congress has already decided that even after the polls, ministers would retain chairmanship of district development boards, but there would be an elected vice chairman too.