SILVER JUBILEE OF A REVOLUTION MISSED

In Punjab’s villages, a battle is on & the renegades have been identified
- SP SINGH
In Punjab’s villages, a battle is on & the renegades have been identified



INDIAN TELEVISION SUDDENLY becomes a little too colourful on the country's mass festivals: Diwali, Holi, Independence Day, Republic Day. The anchors turn up in party clothes and sartorial sense goes all flourescent.

India knows how to mark a festival.

India also knows how not to mark a national day. Even if it is the most revolutionary of the moments in the country's journey.

On April 24, 2018, India will (NOT) be celebrating the silver jubilee of the most glorious moment its Parliament marked: on this day in 1993, it made effective the 73rd and 74th Constitution Amendment Bill, ushering in the Panchayati Raj backed by the statute.
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The institution of Gram Sabha has been rendered ineffective. A Gram Sabha hardly happens, and few even know what a Gram Sabha is. No wonder, it is a revolution that missed its people, because politics failed Indians.
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Panchayats became all powerful. Decision making moved to the grassroots. Devolution of power right down to the village, in fact to the villagers, became the new national norm. 

Everyone called it a Revolution. For 25 years, it has been invariably referred to as a revolutionary move.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018, will be the silver jubilee of that revolution. But you will not see any anchors in that fluorescent colours, neither will there be crackers bursting on your screen.

That's the fate of a revolution missed.

At the core of the 73rd, 74th amendments was the panchayat, and the institution of the Gram Sabha. 

All the voters of a village are automatically members of the Gram Sabha. A Gram Sabha has to meet at least once in the month of June, and once in the month of December.
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If a sarpanch fails to hold a meeting two consecutive times, he has to be suspended. Not a single sarpanch is suspended on this account, even though hardly any Gram Sabhas are held. 
Why is there not a massive outcry by the opposition? 
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Punjab has 13,000 panchayats, 85,000 wards, 145 panchayat samitis with 2,750 members, 22 ZPs, 350 constituencies of Zila Parishads – in all one lakh directly elected representatives, of which one third, 33,000, are women.

But panchayats have little say. The institution of Gram Sabha has been rendered ineffective. A Gram Sabha hardly happens, and few even know what is a gram sabha. No wonder, it is a revolution that missed its people, because politics failed Indians.

Those who wielded any kind of influence failed to take ownership of this revolution. Office bearers of various village level organisations such as schools, colleges, cooperative societies, banks, mahila mandals, youth groups, farmers’ associations and voluntary agencies should have been participants in this devolution of power, but they failed the people. 

The fact is that the great concept of Gram Sabha has become an iconic example of wholesale fraud. Twice a year -- in June and in December, coinciding with Harri and Saoni -- a meeting of the Gram Sabha has to be held. 

If a sarpanch fails to hold a meeting two consecutive times, he has to be suspended. Not a single sarpanch is suspended on this account, even though hardly any Gram Sabhas are held. 
Why is there not a massive outcry by the opposition? 
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The editors of English, Hindi, Punjabi newspapers must inform their readers how many reporters they plan to put on duty to cover the sessions of village parliament in Punjab's 13,000 panchayats. After all, they are never tired of sermonising how the Parliament often does not function to their satisfaction.
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How come the farmer unions are not making a lot of noise about villagers being deprived of their Constitutional right? Why are farm labourers not raising a hue and cry about it? 

Why is Punjab's media not agog about such blatant violation of one of modern India's sweeping statutory promise to the weakest in our society? 

And where is the media coverage of Gram Panchayat meetings across Punjab, of the silver jubilee of PRIs? 

If a Gram Sabha meeting has happened in every village, and there is no way it could not have happened because otherwise sarpanches would have been suspended, then where are the thousands of news stories reporting these meetings?

Where are the Left activists forever shouting hoarse about their sympathy for the countryside? 

There are many unanswered questions: Is there lack of awareness? Is there little belief in the institution of Gram Sabha? Is there doubt if the 73rd, 74th amendment has the potential to deliver? Is there a need to fix the legislation? 
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If a Gram Sabha meeting has happened in every village, and there is no way it could not have happened because otherwise sarpanches would have been suspended, then where are the thousands of news stories reporting these meetings?
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Is there a need to fix the media mindset? The editors of English, Hindi, Punjabi newspapers must inform their readers how many reporters they plan to put on duty to cover the sessions of village parliament in Punjab's 13,000 panchayats.

After all, they are never tired of sermonising how the Parliament often does not function to their satisfaction.

The month of June will be the test of these editors if they moved a finger to ensure that the village parliaments, the Gram Sabha meetings, are convened properly.

Will they be tracking the movement and activities of the Panchyati Raj minister all through the month of June?

Will they report the instances of fraudulent Gram Sabha meetings?

If even the officials in Punjab, even the ministers, concede that most Gram Sabhas in the state are fraudulently held, then the media which does not report it in all its ugly aspects is a part of the problem.

On this April 24 anniversary, on the silver jubilee, the politician, the elite, the academia, and the media failed our rural folk.
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A missed revolution is also the story of a media that was a renegade. That's the worst one can say to those who portray themselves as fighters. In the hills of Niyamgiri, and in the streets of Tamkot, they have words for it in the local language that are not really printable.
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They have every chance to salvage their reputation in June. That reportage must start today. That's the only silver lining such a low-profile silver jubilee can have.

A missed revolution is also the story of a media that was a renegade. That's the worst one can say to those who portray themselves as fighters.

In the hills of Niyamgiri, and in the streets of Tamkot, they have words for it in the local language that are not really printable. Says enough about the renegades.
 
The author is a senior journalist and currently anchors a weekly television debate, Daleel with SP Singh, that's telecast on PTC News channel.
 
 

Disclaimer : PunjabToday.in and other platforms of the Punjab Today group strive to include views and opinions from across the entire spectrum, but by no means do we agree with everything we publish. Our efforts and editorial choices consistently underscore our authors' right to the freedom of speech. However, it should be clear to all readers that individual authors are responsible for the information, ideas or opinions in their articles, and very often, these do not reflect the views of PunjabToday.in or other platforms of the group. Punjab Today does not assume any responsibility or liability for the views of authors whose work appears here.

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Punjab Today believes in serious, engaging, narrative journalism at a time when mainstream media houses seem to have given up on long-form writing and news television has blurred or altogether erased the lines between news and slapstick entertainment. We at Punjab Today believe that readers such as yourself appreciate cerebral journalism, and would like you to hold us against the best international industry standards. Brickbats are welcome even more than bouquets, though an occasional pat on the back is always encouraging. Good journalism can be a lifeline in these uncertain times worldwide. You can support us in myriad ways. To begin with, by spreading word about us and forwarding this reportage. Stay engaged.

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