Srinagar: The first-ever parliamentary outreach programme for Jammu and Kashmir panchayat bodies on Tuesday saw a face-off between former chief minister and National Conference president Farooq Abdullah and lieutenant governor Manoj Sinha, with Abdullah saying, “If we are with the country, the country should also take care of us.”
The former CM was referring to terrorist attacks on panchayat officials and demanded security for them. He also advised Sinha to do his work “honestly” and cautioned that if India can’t protect its diversity, it can’t prosper. “Srinagar and Chennai are so different. But our binding factor is the resolve that we can come together to create this country,” Abdullah said.
He, however, “regretted” that NC didn’t participate in the grassroots-level elections — the panchayat elections in 2018 and the block development council polls in 2019.
Hindustan Times reported that the LG Sinha’s speech was almost entirely a response to what Abdullah said. The J&K L-G recollected how he had to battle “legacy issues” and said, “Now, under the new dispensation, every penny is accounted for. No one can usurp public funds like they did earlier,” in an apparent reference to the tenure of earlier J&K governments when development funds allegedly didn’t reach the people.
Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, who had convened the programme, urged all democratic institutions to “work together” to “improve people’s lives. “If Panchayati Raj is strong, we can improve our governance and delivery systems and create atma-nirbhar (self-sufficient) villages,” he said.
While Abdullah underlined that during National Conference’s tenure, elections could be held with great difficulty in two tiers of the three-tier panchayat system, Sinha hailed the implementation of the entire three-tier system under the Narendra Modi government. He also claimed that the district development council elections of 2020 were “impartial” and “without any violence”, trying to draw a parallel between the earlier elections and the recent ones.
But Sinha and Abdullah agreed with Birla’s vision of the key role of panchayat leaders in J&K. The former CM cautioned that it would not be an easy job, but Sinha said all rural works should happen under panchayat supervision. He announced that J&K has received business proposals worth ₹25,600 crore, and in the coming years, at least ₹50,000 crore worth of investments will come.
Birla maintained that J&K is now on the path of peace and prosperity and said that while India has a lot of diversity, it is democracy that holds the country together. “If democratic institutions are strong, we can reach out to the last person,” he said.
“Tourists want to explore the lesser-known places in J&K. To find national or international markets for J&K produce, the panchayat institution must perform,” said Birla, adding, “If grassroots-level institutions are not strong, we can’t make a strong India. People want to work. They want their areas, villages to be at the top.”