Date: 28 Sep 2012


RAHUL GANDHI, OMAR ABDULLAH FACE OFF OVER J & K PANCHAYATS\\\\\\\\\\\\\ TNN | Sep 28, 2012, 04.23AM IST\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ NEW DELHI: Panchayat leaders from Jammu and Kashmir met Rahul Gandhi on Thursday to demand safety and empowerment while the Youth Congress launched an agitation in the state to highlight their cause, setting the stage for a faceoff between Congress and its J&K partner, National Conference. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ The Congress support for panchayat leaders in J&K came barely two days after Rahul flagged the plight of panchayats as a "serious matter" at the meeting of Congress Working Committee, lending a significant dimension given that he is known to share a good rapport with the young chief minister Omar Abdullah. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ As Rahul played host to the beleaguered panchayat representatives who are being targeted by terrorists, Abdullah told reporters in Srinagar that MLAs belonging to all political parties were opposed to ceding more powers to panchayat representatives. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ Congress sought to downplay the issue but stood by the "better safety and more powers" plank of the panchayat representatives. AICC spokesman Rashid Alvi said, "There is nothing like Rahul Gandhi vs Omar Abdullah ... (but) we want the state government to provide full security to elected panchayat members. The party wants sarpanchs in the whole country to be empowered and adequate security provided to them." \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ Though an unlikely agenda in the sensitive state grappling with challenges of terrorism and alienation, the panchayat issue has cornered national attention because of killings of sarpanchs by militants and their mass resignations. Government feels that the sarpanchs have been targeted by pro-Pakistan terrorist groups who are worried that implementation of grassroots governance through local bodies will undercut their support. There is concern that the trend, if not reversed, could undo the gains of highly successful panchayat polls which saw 90% turnout despite the boycott call. \\\\\\\\\\\\ Worrying for their lives after a spate of attacks, panchayat members have accused the Abdullah regime of failing to stand by them despite the enormous risks they took by contesting the polls. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\ Rahul's engaging the nine-men delegation of aggrieved panchayat men from Jammu and Kashmir has turned the issue into a high priority Congress agenda. After their meeting with the Congress general secretary, the panchayat representatives said he had promised to visit the state and address rallies highlighting their problems. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\ The panchayat men also met Rahul's confidant and junior home minister Jitendra Singh, who is learnt to have urged the Union home secretary to arrange for their security. AICC state in-charge Mohan Prakash may hold further talks with them. \\\\\\\\\\\ All this, along with the Youth Congress agitation in the state, may set the allies on a collision course, already billed as "Rahul vs Omar" faceoff. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ Youth Congress president Rajiv Satav said, "Youth Congress has started the agitation for empowerment of panchayats in state. We are committed to ensuring power and security to panchayat members. The leadership is serious about the issue." \\\\\\\\\\\\\ Sources said AICC's youth outfit took up the issue with Omar regime a couple of months ago and even held 12 conventions across the state to flag concerns. Rahul went the full throttle only after the state failed to heed their demand, the recent killings acting as catalyst. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\ A Youth Congress leader said, "We have given an ultimatum to the state. There was 90% voting for panchayats, they braved guns and now they have no power while being vulnerable to terrorists. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ The faceoff could present the Omar administration with tough challenge as Congress has identified a clutch of "lacunae" in the implementation of panchayati raj in J&K - like financial powers to sarpanchs are inadequate for works they can sanction; the state has not held elections after the first tier of three-tier process; the eligibility age for contesting panchayat polls is 25 years as against 21 years in other states. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\================== 000000000