Kashmir valley is the most youthful administrative units of India, wherein according to the last census, 63% of population is under the age of 30 years and nearly 70% is under the age of 35 years, a staggering number, which gives a prominent role to this segment of Kashmiri society to make any dramatic changes – either positive or negative, that they desire. While the youthful character of Kashmir valley is unfortunately more visible in the huge number of unemployed youth, wherein the Kashmiri male youth unemployment stands at roughly 41% of the total population of Kashmir valley, a scandalous number, which is more than twice the national Indian average, the same youth population is absent in Kashmir’s political spheres, which is dominated by tired old faces, whom ordinary Kashmiris masses detest from the deepest core of their hearts. This paradoxical state of affairs is rather unusual for Kashmir valley, where youth have always played an important role in politics and political change. Whether it was Avantivarman of Kashmir’s Hindu Utpala dynasty or Lalitaditya Muktipada of Kashmir’s Hindu Karkota dynasty, Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin of Kashmir’s Muslim Shah Mir dynasty, Yousuf Shah Chak, the last Kashmiri ruler of Kashmir valley or for that matter Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah; all of these legendary Kashmiri rulers and politicians made their mark in the prime of their youth.
Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the most well known modern political personality to have emerged from Kashmir valley began his political activism as youth leader in Aligarh Muslim University. Later, during late 1980s, Muslim Unite Front (MUF) also emerged as a youth political wing of Kashmir chapter of Jamaat-e-Islami that took part in the controversial 1987 J&K assembly elections as a main-stream right wing Muslim political party, which later alleged massive poll rigging by Rajiv Gandhi led Congress Party and Farooq Abdullah led National Conference that according to them, deprived MUF of their rightful victory in many assembly seats of Kashmir valley. The disenchantment of the youth party workers of MUF grew into a militant separatist movement from which Kashmir has still not emerged. According to many political analysists and historians, had the Congress party – National Conference alliance not rigged the 1987 elections and allowed a new and youthful political leadership of MUF to take political and administrative reigns of J&K state, the Kashmir valley would not have plunged into three decades of violence, bloodshed and mayhem that has completely destroyed all aspects of civilized norms and institutions in Kashmir valley.
In a way, it was the alleged denial of the transfer of power to the youth leadership of 1980s Kashmir valley by the corrupt old political order that paved way for Kashmir’s complete destruction. So, why has youth of Kashmir now disappeared from political discourse? It is not just the mainstream political parties of Kashmir valley but even the separatist political camps that are mostly stuffed with aged, orthodox and corrupt leaders, who are mostly hated and detested by ordinary Kashmiri population for their utter lack of the sense of responsibility towards the ordinary people, whom they are supposed to lead. The only youth leadership that emerges in separatist or mainstream political order is that of nepotism, emergence of sons and daughters from rich and upper caste Kashmiri Muslim families and family raj. Kashmir valley, which has a history of giving birth to Hindu & Muslim dynasties and leadership that were started by young Kashmiri men from ordinary families is today trapped in the vortex of “youth deficit in politics” and that too, when Kashmir valley has historically the highest proportion of population that is below 30-35 years. It is in this context that the upcoming DDC elections, which are part of three tier Panchayat Raj system that empowers local leadership at grassroot levels, should be viewed. The unique three tier local governance model of Panchayat Raj emerged from the same problem of the dominance of feudalism in most parts of India, from which Kashmir also suffered. And it was with the aim to end the monopolistic hold on power of this feudal section of landlords, Rajas, Nawabs, Jagirdars etc. that this three tier Panchayat Raj, which has a village as an administrative unit at the lower level and a district at higher level, came into existence, so that many unrepresented sections of civil society like women, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and most importantly ordinary local youth also get a fair opportunity at entering politics of making laws and policies for their villages and districts, something that used to be usurped earlier by older, richer and upper caste Hindu and Muslim feudal elite.
Since its introduction in 1990s, this three tier Panchayat Raj has given opportunities to thousands of men and women from poor, under privileged and marginalized sections of society to enter into political administration of their villages and districts. Many of these men and women began availing of the opportunities provided by three tier Panchayat Raj to begin their political careers as youth Panch, youth Sarpanch, youth BDC and DDC officials and later on graduated to higher ladder of politics by entering into MLA and MP elections and rising even to the level of Ministers and Chief Ministers. Such is the power of this three-tier local governance model that no one has been able to oppose it in any part of India, even though the older political order resisted it every where in all parts of India. Interestingly even in Kashmir valley, the newly formed “Peoples’ Alliance”, a conglomeration of J&K and few national level mainstream political parties like NC, PDP, Congress and CPI(M) etc. were forced to declare their participation in upcoming DDC elections, despite their contrary stand on fighting for MLA and MP elections in view of changes made to Article 370 of Indian constitution. How can any political formation disassociate with a political system that empowers ordinary people?
The youth of Kashmir should avail of this opportunity to enter into grass roots politics that caters to ordinary civil issues of Bijli-Sadak-Pani of common people of ther villages and districts and thereby take the responsibility of its development in their own hands, otherwise the same shall once again fall into hands of discredited and detested old political order.