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Panchayat empowerment on mind, Rahul in J&K today
Arun Joshi/TNS

Chandigarh, October 3
Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhiís Kashmir visit beginning Thursday comes with a message that he is solidly behind his party and its cause for the empowerment of panchayats at all costs and every thing else is secondary to him.

Sarpanches from J&K had met Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi recently.
Sarpanches from J&K had met Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi recently. File photo

He has taken this challenge in the typical Gandhi family style as right from his great grandfather Jawahar Lal Nehru to his father Rajiv Gandhi were closely involved with Kashmir affairs, having direct connect with the people. Thatís the style of his mother Sonia Gandhi too.

Rahul, who is set to shoulder bigger responsibilities in the days to come, is visiting the state at a time when his party and Kashmir are crying for his attention after the killing of panchayat members that triggered a wave of resignations. Even if the number of those who resigned is only 50, going by the claim of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, itís a bad omen for the grassroots democracy in the Kashmir Valley.

The reason for the resignation is the threat of militants or disenchantment with the institution crying for their empowerment right from the day one.

Rahulís political objective like all his family members is clear ó the Congress is a national party where it cannot allow the regional and parochial forces to keep its national agenda hostage.

One misstep in Kashmir has the ripple effect in the rest of the country. Empowerment of panchayats is like the right to vote, which cannot be disputed whether it is Kashmir or Karnataka.

Kashmir, of course, in many respects is a different place where each and every word is read and interpreted from a dozen angles. Rahul is not unaware of it. Otherwise, he would not have decided to undertake the tour of the state just within days after a delegation of panches and sarpanches called on him in New Delhi, seeking his intervention in the empowerment of panchayats.

This has sent a message of urgency.

During his visit to the state last year when he touched the hilly parts of the state like Rajouri besides visiting the capital cities of Srinagar and Jammu, he had made it clear that he would not allow anything go come in between in his partyís national agenda.

It may not be an issue of Rahul versus Omar Abdullah on the subject line of empowering panchayats - one wants to get it done through the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Indian constitution, while the other wants it through the state laws. But what is inexplicable is that why golden opportunity of making panchayats a success story has been allowed to come to a pass where there are more questions than answers.

Now it is almost two years that these high success rate elections- 80 per cent people participating in the polls despite threats of the subversive elements - were held and still there are questions on the real powers getting transferred to panchayats. Omar claims that 14 departments have conceded their powers to the panchayats, but that theme is almost hidden from the public view. Omarís claim that two Congress ministers opposed the move of empowering panchayats is correct, but equally correct is that some of the National Conference ministers and legislators were opposed to the move. In any case, that should not serve as an excuse to deny panchayats their powers.

Rahul is coming with this message. If the sources who know behind-the-scene story are to be believed, he wants this message to be translated. Can he get it done, thatís the test for Congress general secretary.

Tata, KM Birla to be present

Rahul Gandhi will be accompanied by a strong business delegation, including Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata and Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Manglam Birla, to seek more investment in the border state and allay corporate concerns. HDFC chairman Deepak Parikh, Bajaj Auto Managing Director Rajeev Bajaj and Wipro chairman and managing director Aziz Premji will also be present during Rahul's visit. 

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