Panchayati Raj institution at risk

By K.N. Pandita

Militants are aware that if this phenomenon is allowed to stabilize and proliferate, a day will come when they will lose all the support and sympathy they have been eliciting from the masses of people albeit at the point of gun. It will be the beginning of total paralysis of their violent movement.

From this point of view, attacks on Panches are a real threat to the integrity of the state. Cowards will say that the State should not have initiated revival of Panchayati institution. But now that most of the work is done, government has no option but to stand up and face the challenge. 

Militants are gone underground in the valley for various reasons. By and large, they have lost the support and sympathy of the broad masses so vital to the success of their mission. Recruitment to their ranks has dried up partially because various employment schemes have absorbed many youth and partially because most of those who had been lured to terrorist training camps in PoK and elsewhere in Pakistan have realized that they are being used by interested parties in the name of religion.

Even reinforcement from across the border has also shrunk owing firstly to effective counter-infiltration strategy of our army, and secondly because of deepening political crisis within Pakistan polity after Pak Army launched operation against the TTP-Taliban-Al Qaeda combines in Waziristan.

But it will not be prudent to think that with the lowering of militancy–related incidents, underground network of subversives has met with any substantial disaster, rather the reverse is the case.  Enormous money clandestinely imported into Kashmir and distributed among the activists is the main reason of sustenance of underground network of militancy. How will the State impose effective checks on induction of black money is a question that has not had any satisfactory answer till date.  A dangerous item on ISI’s anti-India agenda is of printing fake Indian currency notes and smuggling then into Indian cities and towns without being detected and prevented at source to destabilize our economy. Of course, there is no doubt that various anti-national organizations inside the country are not only facilitating smuggling of fake currency but are actively contributing to this sabotage.

Intricate judicial system of India and many loopholes in the law usually allow escape roués to the criminals involved in subterfuge. Most of them escape scot free and thus indirectly encourage others to embark on lucrative anti-national adventures. Even the criminals who have been awarded life punishment are hoping to escape the gallows.
Crime is politicised in this country. It means that laws serving as deterrent to crime are diluted and made ineffective. How then can we expect controlling militancy, leave aside eradiating it?  Perhaps the policy planers and law makers in this country are under an impression that all citizens are angels not criminals. Therefore “aberrations” should be overlooked and their wounds provided “ointment”.

We know that the government has no magic wand that will scare away militants whether over ground or underground. What do we mean by the term “underground” militant? They do not dig tunnels to hide in them nor do they disappear in the day light and reappear in the darkness of the night. They are very much on the ground, moving, and running the chores of life as other citizen do and rubbing shoulders with them. But they are indoctrinated and oriented along certain ideology.

These militants are very well known to their neighbours, friends, kinsfolk and even police and intelligence authorities. The MLAs are in full know of their activities, their hideouts and their network connections. If the government is serious in apprehending them, it can do so as it is something achievable. But what are lacking are a policy, commitment and action.

Some hard and rather unpalatable decisions shall have to be taken to stem the tide of attacks on Panchayat members. The first step would be to withdraw government security to the MLAs and ask them to arrange their private security if they feel they need to have. An MLA receives a monthly salary of about a lakh of rupees, other perks excluded. He is capable of requisitioning his private security. Likewise official security bandost in regard to ministers should also be withdrawn allowing them to engage private security.

Secondly, the Sarpanches and Panches should be provided with arms and ammunition for self defence and an arrangement of village defence committee pattern should be floated in more sensitive regions. This will immensely strengthen peace loving segments of rural population and the militants will come to know that their movements are being watched and noted hour by hour. A wedge needs to be created between the majority of peace loving villagers and a handful of gun wielding youth.

Thirdly, whenever suspected culprits are apprehended by the security forces, they should be handed over to the concerned village Panchayats for trial and punishment. By prosecuting them in a court of law, separatists profile them as victimised lot and thus are able to garner wholesale sympathy from the public.

Fourthly, committees of elders including the Panches are constituted in every village or cluster of villages with one-point term of reference, viz. identifying an underground militant in the area and disarming him. Seized arms should be handed over to the local police authorities and the militant should be allowed to go free without any punishment or recrimination. However, he is to be served a warning that his movements will be under watch all the time.

Let me repeat that if underground militancy is to be deterred from attacking the Panches and other peace loving civilians, some harsh measures will have to be taken. The ball is in the court of the government.

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