It goes without saying that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has tied the issue of Kashmir to its ultra-nationalist posturing. Along with its other Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Sangh affiliates and through the non-stop help from the corporate-owned media, it continues to use Kashmir for its divisive and spiteful politics elsewhere in the country. One is afraid that the real reason for the break-up of alliance with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is BJP’s way of catering to this, keeping in view the electoral calculations for 2019 in mind. The subsequent imposition of Governor’s rule in Jammu & Kashmir, too, was just a part of that design.
With the happenings in the state of late and the newly appointed Governor’s odd statements, it is becoming clearer that the BJP is continuing with its old way of handling Kashmir since it rules the state now directly from the Centre. Even after so many months of President’s rule, nothing has changed on the ground. In fact, things have gone from bad to worse which was evident in the overwhelming boycott of the recently concluded Urban Local Body (ULB) elections which turned out to be a farce devoid of any credibility and also from the loss of precious young lives during protests near encounter sites in Kulgam, Shopian and Pulwama, respectively. In these incidents, more than a dozen young men lost their lives which could have been avoided had the trigger-happy forces followed the set procedures and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). No regard is being shown to the common lives in Kashmir, it seems.
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The state has undoubtedly been thrown into a period of political uncertainty and vacuum following President’s rule. There is an apprehension that this vacuum may lead to more problems. In this, the role of Raj Bhawan comes under question. It is for the first time that a politician, that too from BJP, was appointed as a state’s governor by the Central government. Numerous statements by BJP leaders of both national and state level have put the Raj Bhawan into disrepute. These leaders went on to say that the Governor is “our man” and that “he would follow the BJP’s line.”
The hasty manner in which the state Assembly was dissolved when the claim for the government formation was put forward by political parties like PDP, Congress and National Conference, only provided further credence to such apprehensions. The constitutional procedure was not followed at all and in almost mocking terms, the blame was put on a non-functional fax machine. The Governor, on his part, has also come up with certain controversial statements which have further contributed to this apprehension. In one statement, he talked about the “irrelevance of J&K’s political parties”, while in another interview to a TV channel, he announced the name of Srinagar’s Mayor even as the first phase of voting had barely been concluded. He frequently talks about “winning the hearts of Kashmiri youth” but on ground nothing has been done to alleviate their problems and suffering. But then, he also talks of “replying bullets with bullets” without actually talking about the underlying political causes which force these youth to pick up the gun. Kashmiri youth continue to face the brunt of this conflict.
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Raj Bhawan continues to be a party in implementing BJP’s same old agenda in the state. This is evident in the way Kashmir is being constantly mishandled with the refusal to acknowledge the problems in the state as an issue and consequently, a refusal to hold any dialogue, and the continuous assaults on the special status of the state, viz. Article 370 and Article 35-A of the Indian Constitution. Nothing has been done to dispel the fears of the assault on Article 35-A which has caused disquiet among the people, which was the reason that parties like NC, PDP and Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI[M]) decided to stay away from the ULB and Panchayat elections in the state. Despite repeated incidents, forces are not being made to comply with the SOPs which results in the loss of civilian lives.
The security situation has deteriorated totally which can be seen in the increasing number of killings of militants, civilians and security personnel happening these days. This goes together with the alleged accesses of the security forces in the form of increasing arrests and crackdowns in the rural hinterland. The Governor’s administration with its apathetic bureaucratic raj has failed to address the issues of the people of the state. All this has resulted in a deep sense of anger and betrayal among the people in the state in general, and the valley in particular.
As is obvious, the conflict has also severely impacted economic conditions in the state. It is primarily the peasantry and working class which has once again borne the brunt of the current impasse. Most of the dead, blinded and amputated youth belong to this class. Not only these sacrifices, the working class also finds itself cornered on the front of livelihood. The daily earners, labourers, stall owners, small shops, autorickshaw drivers, drivers, small time workers, etc., often face issues because of frequent shutdowns, gun-battles and lockdowns. Their condition gets worse when one sees them under the burden of heavy interest bank loans. This is threatening their basic survival and the current Governor’s administration seems to be totally indifferent to their plight. Governance is invisible. In this harsh winter, basic amenities like electricity and water have disappeared into the thin air.
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Anganwadi workers, daily wage workers, casual labourers and contractual workers are often on the roads demanding their pending salaries. These employees in any case are highly under-paid. They are paid the bare minimum while the state's politico-business elite become more and more wealthy and stash their wealth abroad.
The vital state institutions like Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission, Jammu and Kashmir Services Selection Board, and Jammu and Kashmir Bank also stand discredited among the general masses with widespread allegations of corruption and nepotism. On the issue of providing livelihood and employment to minimise the relative deprivation, the Governor’s administration, like the previous PDP-BJP government, has failed miserably. Unemployment among the educated youth is growing to an all-time high in the state. There is an acute sense of anger and mistrust towards this administration. Many government departments like the Power Department and Revenue and Forestry, according to government’s own admission, are showing abject performance owing to mismanagement and ad hocism.
The state’s economy, too, has witnessed a sharp decline since the last couple of years. The state is under huge liabilities which reflect gross mismanagement. Local industry has plunged to a record low, trade is being mismanaged while agriculture has borne the brunt of this chaos. No steps have been taken to uplift the horticulture sector and tourism sector, which are the backbones of the state economy. There is also an agrarian distress of sorts after apple farming suffered billions of losses owing to the untimely snowfall during the harvesting season. No steps have been taken for its compensation. Apple farmers are already reeling under bank loans while the prices of fertilisers and spray oils are always sky rocketing. The infrastructure is extremely shoddy and every now and then people are crying for basic amenities.
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Basharat Shameem is an activist and writer based in Kashmir. The views are personal.