Defeat of the Separatists’ Agenda
Now that the results of elections in the State of Jammu Kashmir and Ladakh are out, the writing is bold and clear on the wall. The separatists, who form a negligible and miniscule group localized in pockets of downtown Srinagar and in scanty nooks of Sopore, Pulwama and Kulgam towns of the Valley stand further isolated, ignored and even rejected by the Muslims of the Valley; The simple reason being that they are clearly perceived to be in league for hijacking the J&K state for the pleasure of their masters operating across the Indian borders.
Realization has dawned on the Muslims of Kashmir that the wheels of democracy and development have been stopped by the separatist elements by fomenting disaffection, trouble and violence in the minds of simple and sincere people of the Valley. They know that even the World Community has come to the belief that a miniscule faction of senile and chauvinist politicians has no right to hijack majority of the people to an unpopular, separatist agenda. Recent elections and their results have silenced political pundits and social analysts, all. The paint of hate and violence has not colored the common Kashmiri even after his having been submerged for more than 2 decades.
The separatists were flabbergasted by the fearless polling of voters, including Kashmiri Muslims of the Valley, even in the face of boycott protests and threats of violence and reprisals. These disgruntled separatists have gone into a huddle post election results, for a so called “introspection of the causes” of their failure to incite Muslims of Kashmir to resort to violent protests and abstention from voting. They have recently floated rumors that they are ready for unconditional talks with the Govt. of India, so as to not lose their relevance in the eyes of the people of the Valley; This, after their greatest political debacle resulting from their miscalculations regarding response of people of Kashmir to the democratic process of elections. Their clout built on the weak ground of rumors and gossip stands totally shattered by the conduct and results of the elections.
The political system and people of the country need not heed this tiny faction of people who are socially outcasts and politically anarchists. These tiny groupings should be allowed to fade and wither away in the new scenario of positive participation of people of the State in the democratic process. They should not be given a chance to regroup and resurrect from the ashes to which they have been reduced now.
Election Results; Opportunity Missed
Elections results emerged on expected lines when voters of the State threw up a hung Assembly with no clear majority for any single party. National Conference won 28 seats while PDP captured 21 seats. Congress won on 17 seats while BJP triumphed in 11 seats. Panthers party and Communist Party of India along with others took 11 seats. This way, no single party could by itself form the government, meaning that no single party has the mandate of the statewide population.
The first and foremost reason for a split outcome has been the political parties’ failure to directly confront and combat persistent negative efforts of the separatists and the disruptionists. The second reason is a sad fact from the political history of the State that no political party has been commonly (in all 3 divisions of the state) held in high esteem at any point of time, due to power domination by political elite from the Kashmir Valley. The power distribution in the State has not been equitable and fair, which in turn has given cause to feelings of discrimination and unfair play in Jammu and Ladakh divisions particularly and even in some sub-divisions of Kashmir. The third reason is the disappointment of the voters with political parties of all hues due to their sullied images on the issues of honesty and integrity. Parties have not been honest and transparent with the people. The state bureaucracy has been utilized by the bosses of political parties to improve their own fortunes and those of their henchmen. The bureaucracy in turn has learnt the fine art of grinding its own axe, as it obliges the political bosses by subverting rules and concocting interpretations.
On top of the fact that we have a split outcome for the parties, it would be safe to say that many candidates won election as individuals and not as symbols of their respective parties. So, no one political party can be said to have the mandate to govern the state.
It was in anticipation of such a scenario that this writer in his previous write-up on elections in the State suggested that we need to shore up a composite Govt. in the State. In this composite government, all those who had emerged victorious in the elections despite boycott calls and intimidations of separatists would have been stake holders. They could work collaboratively and provide support and strength to the forces of peace and development. Such an arrangement of governance would have been all inclusive and would have the moral strength to carry all people of the J&K State.
But regrettably all political leaders at the national and state level failed to come up to expectations for the occasion. They would not think and work above and beyond their party lines. After the results of elections were declared, immediate and hectic consultations were started to install a Govt.in the State, resulting in cobbling together of a coalition Govt of National Conference and Congress. Technically, it is a sound and ethical arrangement duly sanctioned by the Constitution. But for political and fairness reasons we could and should have not fallen prey to expediency without exploring the possibility of installing a composite government consisting of all parties. We could have broad based the Govt. by including all winning factions by giving representation equal to the strength of their faction. This would have made the government fully representative and inclusive in character and lend it spontaneous support of the people of the State.
New Government; Hope for Change
A coalition government of National Conference and Congress was installed in the State in the first week of January 2009. The selection of Omar Abdullah of NC as the head of the coalition is a silver lining in the current situation. He is the youngest Chief Minister of the State, still in his thirties. Yet, he is significantly experienced as he has worked as an effective Minister of State in the Union Cabinet of India. There are few doubts about his integrity. He has no mental fog. He speaks well. He is in a haste to achieve. He is the grand son of the political legend of Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah. He is not flamboyant and wavering like his father Farooq Abdullah and therefore he comes on the stage without any personal baggage to sink him. But while selecting his team from both the NC and Congress, he was susceptible to a great deal of pressure and was forced to select some men who do not have a sound or clean record. It remains to be seen in the future as to how far he will be able to bridle such men to work within the norms of probity and transparency. Besides he has to carry on with the local bureaucracy, which has tasted absolute power and will not easily give up the role that it had assigned to itself in a State that was lawless for a while due to anarchy caused by the separatists.
On the whole, Omar Abdullah has a golden opportunity to plan and work for the development of the State. There are several reasons for this comment. One being that he is the undisputed leader of the NC, also he is young and earnest to work and achieve. He is experienced and his party has deep roots in the Valley and some shallow spread in Jammu and Ladakh Divisions. He has support of the Congress which has deep roots in Jammu and Ladakh. Very importantly, he has a strong opposition to contend with if he decides to go rogue.
Tasks at Hand
All said, Omar Abdullah’s tasks are daunting and challenging, which need vision, grit, determination and courage. He needs exemplary effort and support from many quarters to face and grapple with the chronic problems of law and order; the unattended demands of development and the accumulated unemployment backlog. He also has to widen and consolidate his political base in all three Divisions of the State. Moreover he has to further isolate and eliminate the separatist and Islamic fundamentalists with his political moves but within democratic means and processes. In all his efforts he cannot ignore the role of the bureaucracy, which is to be resurrected from its deep slide. This bureaucracy may have learnt the art of manipulation to perpetuate its survival. It is to be mopped off its deadwood and floss and orientated for public sensitivity and social accountability.
People have reposed great trust and faith in democratic institutions by participating massively in the elections, even in the face of negative propaganda, protests and threats of separatists and Islamic radicals. Omar has to burn midnight oil to soothe and balm the frayed and bruised psyche of the people of State. The state has undergone acute trauma of turmoil during two decades of militancy, which in turn has degraded Kashmir socially, politically, materially and spiritually.
He can not do it alone. He has to select a group to assist him in such a gigantic task of political reconstruction and social resurrection. His team must comprise of clean and transparent people, sensitive to the welfare and feelings of the people and accountable to them. Will Omar be able to select and retain such a group will be known only in the future, when he is firmly in his saddle. It also is to be seen if Omar will be able to motivate his team mates to work as executives who are serious about working and achieving targets without any excuses. It seems to be a difficult task for him but we should hope that he is able to achieve by his vision and dynamism and youthful leadership qualities.
The power of a gun in terrorist hands to coerce even ordinary people into endless cycles of violence is not questionable, particularly when another government is providing complete material and logistical support. Omar will need to work with security agencies as well as political reformers to take corrective steps. The foreigners and the hardcore needs to be dealt with effectively and the common folk need to be given opportunities for a better life.
He has also to take bold and effective steps to create conducive conditions for Kashmiri Hindus to return to their homeland. They have to be given their fair share of power in the state and control over their own destiny. The forced exodus of Hindus of the Valley from their place of birth to different parts of the country is a continuing slur on the face of secular India. How he will be able to achieve this can be anybody’s guess.
He has to strike a fair and equitable balance with the political hierarchy and administrative setups of three antagonistic and opposing Divisions of the State. This has to be a great act of social engineering and needs a radical approach. Such an approach is not restricted to only giving representation in legislature and administration to the people of three Divisions. It could include many more alternatives. How he may be able to strike this balance is to be watched with bated breath.
On Article 370 and Autonomy he has to open his cards cautiously because within the three Divisions of the state there are divergent views on both of these issues. It needs a master stroke of creativity to find a solution that respects the different aspirations of three Divisions, yet maintains the unity and integrity of the State.
Omar has to restore and establish sound infrastructure in the State, which has been devastated by terrorists. Huge investments are required in the infrastructure sector, which can come only from a mix of government, public and private investment. Given the continuing support from powers across the border to terrorism in the state and the willingness of their homegrown agents to strike against their own, getting such investments will take some doing.
He has to resurrect the tourism industry which remains one of the core sectors of the state’s economy. Though potential and scope of this sector is vast, the threat is also the highest because the terrorists usually select tourists as soft targets. Law and order has to be improved and more so at the tourist destinations.
Omar has to involve and associate people in the process of development. This needs to be done through democratic means. Therefore it is essential for him to revive all democratic institutions like Panchayats, Town Area committees Municipalities and Co-operative Institutions. This can be done by ordering immediate elections in these local, self governing institutions under the existing laws. This will have major advantages for the State. It will revive defunct institutions by involving people in the process of elections, make space for public participation in all processes of development as well as improve accountability in public spending. It will restore people’s faith in processes of democratic change. Will Umar venture to do this?
Corruption in public life and bureaucracy is parasitic and it needs Herculean efforts to arrest and weed it out. It can be done more by practice than preaching. Omar has to enforce public probity and accountability in his team members. He also has to enforce the same in his bureaucracy which has the disgrace of being considered as one of the most corrupt bureaucracies of the country. He has to be hard and stiff against delinquent behavior irrespective of political compulsions and party pressures. Will he be able to bring this change?
Last but not the least, he has to learn to live and work as Omar Abdullah and not as a shadow of his maverick father Farooq Abdullah. He cannot allow his father to shadow over him in his functioning. He must work independently, following his good sense and logic. He should not allow himself to fall prey to the factions in his National Conference nor should he get entangled in the power struggles within the local Congress, his coalition partners.
Vision of Change
Omar is a fresh face and save an ill-advised speech or so, is considered to be of a positive mindset. He does not carry bad baggage and can be the Obama-change in Kashmir. He can bring stability and development back to the J&K State, which it has been craving for the last 20 years. He can bring Kashmiri Hindus back to their land. In case he does not have these goals to start with or if he falters in achieving these goals, all parties concerned with J&K could lose a golden opportunity for good. That is not affordable for anyone.