2010,2016: The Irrelevance of a Government and a CM in Kashmir
SRINAGAR: Many Kashmir watchers were expecting that after the Indira/Abdullah accord of 1974 politics in Jammu and Kashmir will at least get azadi from an overbearing unitarian state. That the state government will be able to govern as per the wishes and aspirations of the people and a Kashmiri will be allowed to remain a Kashmiri.
This did not happen .Even a leader like Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah did not have a free hand .He told veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar: “Intelligence agencies do not want me to succeed. They treat me like a chaprasi(peon)”.
In fact, the late illustrious Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, BK Nehru at one time had to enquire from the local Deputy Director of the Intelligence Bureau JN Saksena about whether he was sending one kind of report to him and another to Delhi. The Governor came to regard Saksena as a person of high credibility,
The developments after the killing of Burhan Wani along with two others on July 8 reduced the role of the state government to that of a municipality. A noted south Asian expert noted in 2010 that India is “ghettoizing Kashmir as a non-political problem”. The fact is as former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has now instantly and correctly pointed out “Burhan’s death will galvanize militancy”.
The worry is that Delhi is bringing more and more intellectual poverty than credibility to the entire issue. This becomes clear as we examine the developments in Kashmir in 2010 and now again in 2016, that witnessed killings of young people in unequal street battles. There are many lessons for those who deal with Kashmir at the political and policy making levels, as well as reasons for the fall of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in the eyes of her own people.
The government is exceptionally weak and vulnerable in Jammu and Kashmir as compared to other parts of the country, even though the state has been treated differently in the Indian constitution and still enjoys some autonomy. The experience of Kashmir now for instance, cannot be compared to that of Tamil Nadu or Punjab which have experienced hot separatist movements.In fact democratization in Tamil Nadu proved a catalyst for ending the separatist sentiment.
For paucity of space it is not possible to go into the entire historical spectrum post 1953 to examine New Delhi’s unconscionable manipulation of Kashmir politics, but what has happened in 2010 and 2016 will help in understanding the extent of erosion in the prestige and power of the state governments .
In 2010 Kashmir was drawn into a bloodbath after the Machil fake encounter was exposed. The state government was headed by National Conference under Omar Abdullah. Though young and new to the job Abdullah had the advantage of having people around him,who knew Kashmir well and were politically oriented. Most of them commanded grassroot support. He headed the coalition government with the Congress party as Mr. Clean. His father Farooq Abdullah, in the form of additional support, was a member of the Union Cabinet.
But as the cycle of violence started consuming more young lives , the state government’s powerlessness became visible. And even more naked when the then home secretary G.K Pillai announced from New Delhi that curfew will be lifted from Srinagar.
Addressing a press conference the then state rural development minister Ali Mohammad Sagar stated: “we appeal the central government to tame the CRPF. The Union Home Minister must visit Kashmir at the earliest to take stock of the situation”.
A. G Noorani wrote in Kashmir Times on June 29, 2010,“Omar is not in control. The administrative secretaries were asked to report directly to the Governor Mr N N Vohra”. Then Home minister P. Chidambaram took all local decisions, including the opening of schools, and made himself the de-facto Chief Minister of the state.
This visible powerlessness of the Jammu and Kashmir government generated heat in the separatist camp. On August 8, 2010 Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani decided to launch a “quit Kashmir campaign” to contest the perception that Kashmir has no leadership. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was approached over the worsening situation in Kashmir and its general secretary Prof Akmatuddin Ahsan was requested to immediately convene a special session of the OICs “Kashmir contact group” to discuss the situation in the Valley.
In Delhi political frustration increased to a point where the Home Minister blamed the Lashkar e Tayaba for the trouble in the Valley. The BJP and the Congress party blamed Pakistan and claimed that Rs 50 crores had changed hands to keep Kashmir on the boil. The Union Home Secretary blamed PDP –a “frustrated party”, as he put it, “ which still has not come to grips that they have lost power”.
Mehbooba Mufti as an opposition leader then countered this with, “ the Chief Minister has outsourced the state to his cronies, police and security agencies distancing even the saner elements in his own party from matters of governance.” She further claimed that this attitude had brought the state to the verge of a new disaster as “our graveyards have once again become repositories of the dying youth”(Kashmir Times :21 June 2010).
Now to 2016. Mehbooba Mufti as Chief Minister is facing the same dilemma that she criticised her predecessor with, and is hiding behind the bureaucracy, in the middle of nowhere.The persons around her know Kashmir more through books rather than experience on the ground. Her partner in coalition, Ram Madhav who handled the elections for the BJP, gave what is perceived here as a callous statement, “the government will stand firm, eruption or no eruption”. At the time of writing Omar Abdullah tweeted, “I have learned from my mistakes but Mehbooba has multiplied them.”
Media reports and surveys brought out the mass sentiment behind the protests in 2010. The Outlook magazine in association with Marketing and Development Research Associates conducted a poll in Srinagar which revealed that 75 percent of those polled did not see Pakistan’s hand behind stone pelting. The youth involved in street protests had no top level contacts.
In 2016 too the young Kashmiris have emerged as distrustful of mainstream politicians and political dalals who have become habitual in selling Kashmiri blood for making their own careers.
A small window of opportunity opened in 2010 for different stakeholders to halt the violence and killings. An all party delegation from Srinagar sans PDP was sent to Delhi to meet the Prime Minister. Then Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh was sentimental in expressing his “sorrow”, said he shared the pain of all those who had lost their young sons in the violence and concluded that the key was in a political solution, addressing the alienation and emotional needs of the people.
The then Home minister P. Chidambaram said: “we are willing to hold talks with our own people”. The then Army Chief General VK Singh (presently a minister in the Union Cabinet) stated that political inaction is responsible for the Kashmir unrest and added that “the security forces have done their job and now the political leadership should take up the thread.”
The Lok Janshakti party chief Ram Vilas Paswan stated that representatives of eight parties that visited Kashmir as part of a non-official parliamentary delegation, will form a caucus to create public opinion within the country in order to facilitate a permanent solution for the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.
In 2016 not much has changed. The Congress party has deputed Ambika Soni and Salman Khurshed to the Valley who have emphasized upon the need for the dialogue process. The state government under Mehbooba Mufti has gone into virtual hibernation. A lawmaker from Pulwama Mohammad Khalil Band attacked by protesters, is undergoing a ‘healing touch’ in the army hospital.
A civil society group which met the CM on July 11 found her quite powerless and not in control of the situation. Speaking to media on July 13 the members of the civil society clarified that they told the Chief Minister to step down as she is not in control. The control clearly lies with the central government, that seems to be controlling her every move. Muzaffar Hussain Baig who is a senior leader of the PDP has publicly questioned the operation in which Burhan Wani was killed. What is more disturbing is Baig’s claim that the Chief Minister “perhaps was not taken into confidence about the Burhan gunfight and that she has been betrayed by some police officers’’.
Against this backdrop certain formulations can be made to assess the implications of a weak state government in Jammu and Kashmir, which is supposedly autonomous and where people for historical and political reasons, like their government to be assertive.
One, the late Balraj Puri once told me in an interview that best way to making border people disloyal to the country is to require them to prove their loyalty, with the additional test of demonstrating their loyalty to the party at the centre. The Rajiv Gandhi/Farooq Abdullah accord was nothing but a political reminder to the latter that he could not be in power without the Congress party. Thus, grew the perception that Farooq Abdullah was an “agent of Delhi” and when he became the Chief Minister it was a sure recipe for disaster.
In 2015 the dominant thinking within the PDP was that in case they did not form the government with the BJP, funds will not flow to Kashmir. A year down the line, and Mehbooba Mufti has been virtually consumed by the BJP and the negativity created in the Valley in particular, by the right wing forces.The two regional parties as instruments of regional protest have lost both popularity and credibility.
Two, in the years of violent conflict the security establishment gained primacy. But in a state like Jammu and Kashmir where issues of autonomy, azadi, identity are shaping the discourse having a lame duck state government is a disaster. After all post 1947 politics in Kashmir was largely dominated and driven by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah known to Kashmiris as the “lion of Kashmir” who defied the undemocratic style of working of the government of India.
The political establishment both at state and union level should not surrender the initiative to the security establishment. Even the late B.K Nehru as governor of Jammu and Kashmir at one critical time had moral courage to state, “I was not subordinate to the government of India”.
Three, governments in Jammu and Kashmir, led by the regional parties need to demonstrate their capacity to fight for their rights and also learn to give up power if the need arises.
And lastly, the managers of the Indian state need to explain as to why the politics of the DMK and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, the Akali Dal in Punjab and the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal is being accommodated to the extent that these parties sometimes exercise a veto over the foreign policy decisions of Indian state. In Jammu and Kashmir successive governments run by the regional parties have become objects of ridicule to the point where the average Kashmiri now feels that this state does not need a Chief Minister.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author's personal views, and do not necessarily represent the views of Newsclick
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