Special Senior Correspondent
KP woman, a former militant and a model turned politician are Kashmir's new sarpanches
The usually stone-pelted streets of Baramulla sprung a surprise a gentle summer afternoon. Celebrations, as Aisha Jee beat her closet rival Sarwar Begum to be elected as a first Pandit sarpanch in Kashmir. The victory was tweeted as a symbol of Hindu Muslim unity in the Valley.
Some days before this, near the Line of Control in Lacchipora, a software engineer and an aspiring model Raja Pervez Ali Mir joined in the ranks of Kashmir's new sarpanches. A former Hizbul Mujahidin commander Munaf Malik, involved in over150 encounters, contested the polls. Another former militant, Ghulam Ahmad Magray got lucky with a win.
Kashmir's panchayat elections have been an interesting platter. Not just for the high voter turnout, but for the mix of its contestants. The separatists had also indirectly extended their support it- by not opposing it.
The six-phase elections had been long pending. The last panchyat polls were in 2001, but it was a poll, which many eyed suspiciously. The decentralization of powers, much demanded, was even set up high in priority by Prime Minister's working group committees.
The 2011 polls, which will conclude in June, have been promising so far, but with a gaping miss. The elections are being held as per the JK Panchyat Raj Act of 1992. The 73rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution, which gives more powers to the panchayats, has not been adopted by Jammu and Kashmir.
Despite this, the transfer of power to grassroots, if done with sincerity, has potential to transform Kashmir's political space. The clamour for basic needs often leads to protests and even cries for Azadi. Perhaps, a strong local body will fill in the space of grass root facilities.
The turnout in Kashmir's last assembly elections was for basic governance, which many say is still missing. The 70 to 80 per cent turnout for panchyat elections is once again for local needs. More than often higher political powers in the state have been caught up in petty corruption, forgetting good governance at grassroots, Perhaps, out a varied mix of new sarpanches, a few can now change this.
Jammu and Kashmir should look forward to and even demand effective local governance now. This is not a political solution to Kashmir, but a small positive change-which perhaps can transform the raging public anger. The elections to local bodies have the promise of being the lesser polls with larger gains.