Kashmir Valley: How do you dress the wounds in the state?
Since the fall of the BJP-PDP government, the political process had come to a standstill, which should get a boost with the appointment of veteran Satya Pal Malik as Governor
By any reckoning, it would be fair to say that the situation in the Kashmir Valley has gone from bad to worse. The presence of heavily armed militants at public events like funerals, regardless of police presence, is a sign that the Indian state is losing its already tentative grip over the valley. Despite mishandling the Kashmir Valley for long periods under different dispensations, never has the state been treated like an occupied territory, as it is now. The fig leaf of insaniyat has been ripped off and the iron fist concealed in the velvet glove is out for anyone who cares to see and there cannot be too many who are likely to miss it.
Therefore, the two new developments in the state need to be handled with care. One, the appointment of a new Governor, who is a politician, with more grassroots connect than a bureaucrat, and two, the revival of the political process by holding the urban local body and panchayat elections in the state. Since the fall of the BJP-PDP government, the political process had come to a standstill, which should get a boost with the appointment of veteran Satya Pal Malik as Governor. Malik in his new role is duty bound to talk to a cross section of the population, something that a politician is trained to do and a bureaucrat is not.
While it is a great idea to hold the urban local body and panchayat elections - the former in October 2018 and the latter in November-December – any attempt by the BJP to dominate local bodies at the expense of the National Conference and the PDP, may prove to be counter-productive and could lead to a situation not very different from the period when the PDP-BJP government were in power, releasing such contradictory forces that governance in the state took a back seat.
The time is just right to do what Atal Behari Vajpayee had done, which is to smoke the peace pipe with the major constituents and stakeholders in the state. Tell them they are part of the peace process and offer them a piece of the India’s development cake. To be sure, these are no sure shot panacea, but it at least offers hope of a more sympathetic approach to the people of the Valley instead of guns and pellets
There is little doubt that the state needs its ‘healing touch’, a much-maligned phrase, which now needs a fresh coat of paint. In Jammu and Kashmir, where political sensitivity is of an order higher than anywhere else in the country, any suggestion, howsoever vague and convoluted, about abrogation of Article 370 and Article 35 A, both of which guarantee Kashmir’s special status, is likely to be met with hostility and suspicion. But now that the constitutional validity of Article 35 A, which provides for special rights to the permanent residents of the state guaranteeing that the ownership of land remains with Kashmiris, has been questioned in the Supreme Court, there is a real fear that the Article may be struck down. The local population has already organised protests against the apex court entertaining the bunch of petitions on Article 35 A and is demanding, openly, that in the eventuality of the court striking down the Article, the Central and state governments must put in place new laws that would, in effect, over ride the court verdict.
It has not helped that the highly influential National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who knows the troubled state better than most, said at a book release function recently that Jammu and Kashmir’s separate constitution was an ‘aberration’ as sovereignty ‘cannot be diluted and ill-defined’. At one go, it raised questions about Kashmir’s special status, a subject which raises excitement unlike any in the benighted Valley.
There is a good reason for political parties in the state to see red. Both the National Conference and PDP have threatened to boycott local elections until the central government makes it position clear on the subject. The rub lies here. For decades, the interest of the local political parties (National Conference for most part) and the Central government have been at complete variance with each other. Now, even that tenuous situation has been compounded.
While both the regional NC and PDP are aware of the enormous sensitivities involved in even tinkering – let alone abrogating – these two Articles, connected closely as they are with the people in the Valley in particular, a national party like the BJP has no such compunctions. For long, since the days of Balraj Madhok and the Jan Sangh, repealing the two Articles has been an intrinsic part of the saffron agenda. Quite apart from the fact that BJP is not saddled with the prospects of a popular backlash in the Valley, there is a good chance that even stirring up this pot could get them some support in other parts of the state like Jammu. In addition, it has the potential to fuel popular sentiment in favour of the BJP from the rest of the country in an election year. Remember also that the Supreme Court has only deferred its hearing on Article 35 A to January 2019 at the request of the state government that had cited security issues coming in the way of conducting local body elections.
It is also a good time for the BJP to introspect. Despite countless peace initiatives to win over the disaffected populace, the situation on the ground has far from improved. Now more than any other time in its six-decadeold turbulent history, the youth in the Valley are taking to militant ranks in large numbers. Security agencies are no longer quoting an influx of foreign fighters into the Valley, as was the case until a decade or so ago. There are ominous signs of civil discord and security personnel would be the first to admit - privately of course - that while neutralising foreign guerillas is relatively easier, to kill your own people at will, can be exceedingly counter-productive in the long run. Already a generation of people, particularly in the Valley, has become seriously disenchanted with New Delhi and there is little gain in laying the blame solely at Pakistani propaganda and anti-national forces. Also at stake is the growing number of casualties among Indian security forces.
The time is just right to do what Atal Behari Vajpayee had done, which is to smoke the peace pipe with the major constituents and stakeholders in the state. Tell them they are part of the peace process and offer them a piece of the India’s development cake. To be sure, these are no sure shot panacea, but it at least offers hope of a more sympathetic approach to the people of the Valley instead of guns and pellets.