Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent statement that “DDC elections in Jammu and Kashmir strengthened India’s democracy” has proved to be shallow and an addition to the sitcom we have got used to in the region.
The three-tier panchayat system in J&K was supposed to alleviate the sufferings of people who are disappointed and disillusioned with the arrogant and authoritarian style of functioning of the bureaucracy. However, on the contrary, the ‘democratic’ set-up has further weakened the system and the last vestiges of any credibility of these institutions have got eroded.
The analysis and interpretations of J&K’s District Development Council (DDC) elections on prime TV shows is far from the reality. The election was never an “acceptance” of the revocation of Article 370 nor was it a signal for any compromise on J&K’s identity.
We must not undermine the sense of Kashmiri people in answering and fighting the current dispensation with their power of vote. But the trust reposed in ballots by the people is at stake, as we, the representatives, are being deliberately failed by the administration through systematic efforts, to meet the expectations of people. We are literally living in caged rooms on the pretext of security threat. To top it, an unaccountable bureaucracy is undermining our limited powers as DDC representatives.
There is no doubt that political activities -- from electioneering to holding public meetings -- have always been a challenge and are associated with a certain degree of risk in Kashmir. However, political spectrum and the people of Kashmir have well navigated through the tumultuous years and upheld the democratic traditions/processes.
I vividly remember my youth days when I participated in the election campaign during the 1996 elections, which were perhaps the toughest in the history of Jammu and Kashmir. Grenades lobbed at public meetings, dilapidated roads due to IED blasts and massive uncertainty combined with fear, with a loose security grid, were never a hurdle for people going through the democratic exercise.
Twenty five years down the line, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. The government’s own assertion of improvement in the security scenario with a robust security grid is not translating into freedom for us (DDC representatives) from the allocated accommodations. I
t has been almost nine months since the people elected us to run DDC. But, we have been consistently confined to our allocated accommodations and are continuously barred from moving freely to visit our respective constituencies, forget holding public meetings in villages. We are literally caged under the pretext of possible ‘security threat’. One often wonders, is this so or is there something else?
It is a blot on the face of democracy that we, the elected representatives, feel like caged birds with no access to our own people. We are now used to the message, “not allowed” displaying on our phone screens after we apply to security agencies for permission to visit our constituencies. The District Secretariat is a few miles away from our allocated accommodation, but even for a visit to the deputy commissioner’s office we have to apply for permission that is denied to us most often.
What is ironical is that whenever the administration allows us to move, we are given security cover with just two security personnel and no bullet proof vehicles. It is not that DDC members are demanding more security or bulletproof vehicles, but then this clearly contradicts the administration’s claims of potential “security threat”.
DDC representatives have written a letter to the Director General of Police and apprised the IGP Kashmir in person about excessive curbs on our movement. Although we were assured of facilitation and permission to discharge our social and democratic responsibilities, we are yet to see any step in that direction.
Prolonged and protracted restrictions are, in fact, vitiating the process of strengthening grassroots-level democratic institutions. This leaves one wondering: Has the security situation so dramatically worsened that we have been locked up in rooms, or is it a deliberate attempt to prevent us from carrying on our political duties and activities?
In conclusion, I must remind the administration of Jammu and Kashmir that mere electioneering is futile if its essence does not percolate down to the people, and the argument about the state’s security is being used to side-step key welfare issues that matter to the people of J&K most, so that they are able to live a life of dignity.
The writer is a member of the District Development Council of Jammu & Kashmir, elected from Kulgam. The views are personal.