Edit & Opinion

Kashmir Conundrum: Awaiting political dawn

By Poonam I Kaushish

The travails of picturesque Kashmir continue. Political India is in the midst of loud cantankerous cackle on Jammu & Kashmir. All busy dissecting, debating and deliberating one year post the bifurcation of the State into two Union Territories, Ladakh and J&K. Questionably, has the Modi Sarkar fulfilled its promise of development, normality and end of terrorism?

True, a year is not enough to gauge a change in a Valley which has been birthed in violence, strife and alienation for over seven decades. There is a heavy blanket of security coupled with a widening trust deficit, Pakistan’s unrelenting interference in aiding and abetting bloodshed in the Valley, increasing religious radicalisation and politico-ethnic demands. A volatile and toxic situation.

A year which has seen three Constitutional heads, politico Satyapal Malik, bureaucrat Murmu to ex-Minister Manoj Sinha. Yet the Government has failed to create a sense of acceptability or make tangible infrastructural development on the ground. “After one year we have nothing to show people. We have failed in both security situations and infrastructural development”, said a senior security strategist.

It is a moot point whether Sinha can fill the political vacuum created by the abrogation of Article 370, reignite the political conversation, kick-start the political process with the intent to hold elections and bring peace to the conflict-raven region?

As it stands his appointment has failed to enthuse Kashmir’s politicians who remain sceptical. “Another Delhi man on Delhi’s mission,” is the common refrain which seems to have had no impact on the ground or make headway. The animosity is barely hidden. It is part of BJP-RSS’s anti-Muslim agenda to enforce a demographic change, disempower and disenfranchise the people.

Moreover, the Valley is witnessing a kind of uncertainty and an unwanted decay in its governance apparatus resulting into a growing gulf between people and the dispensation at the helms of affairs. Consequently, radical elements are better positioned than political entities, further complicated by homegrown militants targeting newly elected panchayat leaders.

Over the decades Kashmir has been a favourite playground for our politicians to carry out experiments, weave magical myths about their political dexterity and innovations, success in nipping Pakistan’s devious designs, tales of heroic valour in annihilating cross border terrorism notwithstanding the simmering cauldron of discordant voices of the Opposition and State players mingled with discontent among Kashmiris.

Home Minister Shah’s words that Article 370 was the root cause of terrorism in the erstwhile State and shredding it would help end terrorism has turned out to be a misnomer. This year alone there have been 181 terror attacks with 98 militants killed. Militancy is rife compounded by the continued radicalisation and recruitment of locals in terrorist ranks. Worse, alienation has increased amidst simmering resentment as the euphoria over the killing of terrorists has not been able to win over the people.

Leaders like PDP former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who was part of coalition Government with the BJP till June 2018 continue to be in detention under the Public Safety Act, except the NC’s Abdullahs or like Congress leader Soz who is under ‘house arrest’. Last week the Lieutenant Governor refused permission for an all-Party meet called by Farooq Abdullah. Leading to increased disgruntlement among local netas, separatists politicians and restive youngsters in South Kashmir.

Sinha needs all his acumen to take the bull by the horns by starting a political dialogue with all stakeholders, expedite the political process and hold polls soon. J&K needs an elected legislative Assembly, Chief Minister with his Council of Ministers to take matters forward.  Whether one Party gets majority or it is a hung Assembly is not important.

Simultaneously, he needs to sequence the process of delimitation and Statehood. A Modus Vivendi with locals by gathering lost threads from the baggage of chequered history and keeping ones ears to the ground.

Meanwhile, New Delhi in moves that are in no way a break from the much vilified political culture of what Congress Governments did in the seventy years, the Central Government is trying to raise a “third front” of politicians ready to make a pact with the BJP to wield power in J&K. A former little known NC player Altaf Bukhari has floated Apni Party March 2020.

It remains to be seen if a ‘new politics’ can be built and can Parties, like Apni Party succeed in filling the vacuum? Given that mainstream leaders and Parties are in a quandary and don’t know how to approach the people and what to offer them as the political discourse that formed their linkage with the people has become redundant and they have lost their relevance. Even if they make effort to approach people, there is no real political space available.

Recall, mainstream politics in Kashmir was driven around the discourse of ‘Kashmiri identity’ — its specificity and exclusive nature, its autonomy vis-a-vis the Centre and the need of its preservation and protection via the special Constitutional status enjoyed by the State. With Article 370 being struck down and creation of two UTs there is not only loss of logic of its politics but also they have not been able to come up with a viable cogent response.

This apart, Sinha’s other priority is to ensure better coordination between the Centre and UT. The absence of 4G network has meant that Kashmiri public and political opinion is being suppressed and not allowed to surface. The Government has sought to justify this by saying that it has ensured that there is no loss of life and there have been no violent protests in the Valley.

But the people are expressing themselves by remaining silent as a kind of civil disobedience and only venture out for necessities amid the restrictions on mobile telephony and crippling internet blockade aggravated by Covid 19. Indeed, the targeting of Kashmiris’ fundamental rights has done much to underline their perceived separateness while the promised “development” is still only a chimera.

Further, the Government needs to plug Kashmir deeper into the Indian economy, create more broad-based stakeholders in the Valley which should result in pacification of strife. Sadly, however, in the five years since Modi announced the Rs 58,627 crores Development Package projects are progressing slowly thanks to the uncertain security scenario. Private investors do not want to set up shop due to continued militancy as they feel development might not lead to the end of the conflict.

For New Delhi everything is not kosher. Today, its Kashmir policy is caught between a rock and a hard place. The 2019 rainbow of peace and development post abrogation of Article 370 is nowhere on the horizon. It would be simplistic to imagine that this multi-layered and complex conflict can be resolved by a Constitutional change or providing an economic package.

Undoubtedly, a coherent strategy on conflict resolution is required, New Delhi needs to reduce the sources of extremism and separatism, undermine Pakistani influence in the Valley and make Kashmiris feel closer to India. Modi has to leave no ‘stone’ unturned to further India’s national interests. A slow and steady work in progress.

Certainly, all want Kashmir to be truly integrated into India politically, socially, culturally, religiously, ethnically etc. However, does Kashmir want to be reunited with the rest of India? To bridge the gap between the Valley and Centre? Do Kashmiris’ want to belong and be Indians? Answers to these questions will for tell the way forward. Till then India has be remain patient and await a new dawn

 

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