National Conference’s (NC) boycott of upcoming Panchayat elections has put a big question mark on these elections. NC is the biggest and the oldest political party and its position, whatever way, on crucial issues like elections cannot be disregarded. National Conference President Farooq Abdullah on Wednesday announced the boycott of elections by his party in protest against the lackadaisical approach by the government in protecting the Article 35-A in the Supreme Court. This has forced the other parties too to make a rethinking on their stand on Panchayat elections. The Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) call for holding all-party meeting to decide about the elections should be viewed against this backdrop. The PDP has, in essence, sought postponing the elections as the situation was not ripe for any such political venture. Much to the eyes and understanding of even a lay man, Kashmir is passing through a dangerous phase of turmoil. Holding of panchayat elections would only but add fuel to the fire. Militants have vowed to punish any or every person participating in the elections. These threats cannot be dismissed without giving any thought. The government should re-read the situation in its right perspective. Last week when militants kidnapped over a dozen kin of policemen, they trod beyond a point to prove their claim. They made it known to everybody they had the power and prowess to make their point. Militants have threatened to put acid in the eyes of those who contested the panchayat elections in Kashmir. One must ignore the latest warning of militants in which they said “we don’t have jails and sub-jails to lodge the culprits in. We will go for on-spot action”.
Panchayat and local bodies’ members, in virtual sense, are unprotected common people. They are vulnerable to all threats and risks. It does need to have mobs of armed men to harass or harm them. Even a single odd armed person is powered enough to scare away dozens of such people. Government has to blame itself for making such provocations. In 2011, Hizbul Mujahideen said that they would disturb the panchayat election as a Panchayat member did not need to take oath of Indian constitution. That saw a large number of people participating in the elections. After the conclusion of elections, government declared the peaceful conduct of panchayat polls as victory against militants. It was a straight provocation to militants, who later forced many a Panchayat members to resign. On occasions it appears that the government has developed vested interest in keeping the pot boil. Kashmir is yet to recover completely from the unrest that swept the valley after Burhan Wani’s killing. Government should have learnt lesson from the anger people expressed during polling for Srinagar parliamentary seat when just around 2% voters turned out to cast their votes amid heightened tension. The government appeared so helpless that it had to put off the election for Anatnag parliamentary seat indefinitely. The seat is still vacant and government does not muster courage to hold elections there notwithstanding the fact that parliamentary candidates and campaigners do have full protection cover from the government. Panchayat members and sarpanchs, as against this, do not have any security cover. They are left to mend for themselves. That makes them easy targets. Deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh is reported to have said that the government was aware of the threat and a strategy has been devised to hold elections peacefully. But it is not a case of a day or two. Panchayat members would be vulnerable to threats permanently and round the clock. It could be said with great convenience that government is simply befooling the people and exposing them to dangers of insecurity deliberately. The state administration should take a dispassionate view of the situation, devoid of political undertones. That, by not holding the elections, the state government would lose over Rs.4000 crores specified by the central government for panchayat elections is no justification. Not, money, but human lives matter the most.