Rebuilding a peaceful Kashmir
What worsened the situation and what need be done to bring it back on rails
Governor N N Vohra, unlike many of his predecessors in office has the experience of safe play. He keeps his eyes and ears open in the skullduggery and ruthless power play games in Kashmir over the last ten years he held the job of Governor. He took over on 26 June, 2008, when the state was in utter turmoil over the transfer of land to the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board by the State Government headed by Ghulam Nabi Azad with the support of PDP. Azad's regime was toppled by Mufti Syed by withdrawing support. Azad tried his level best to stay in power by garnering Farooq Abdullah's National Conference support. Farooq Abdullah did not respond to Azad’s frantic calls in London where he was enjoying playing golf with his Delhi based businessmen. Azad could only talk to Abdullah through the businessman’s phone to his dismay Farooq did not say yes or no and finally Omar Abdullah conveyed to Azad that too through intermediaries `sorry, no support'. Azad finally resigned. N N Vohra as Governor was asked to hold elections immediately and he managed to hold and conducted elections for a new state Assembly smoothly in November and December that year — a feat few had thought possible. The elections went off smoothly and there was a 70 percent turnout in the state.
Such is the ruthless power game in Kashmir. Mehbooba Mufti was dealt in no decent way. She was in usual business in the midst of an administrative meetings in the secretariat when she got the massage of BJP's withdrawal of the support to her government. She resigned and consequently the Governor rule was imposed.
Vohra’s administration was generally popular when Governor’s Rule was imposed again after the 2014 elections, and the BJP and the PDP took more than two months to negotiate their coalition, and after Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death in January 2016, when Mehbooba Mufti took three months to take over as Chief Minister. He personally is said to have advised Mehbooba Mufti as center's emissary to lead the Government to which Ms Mehbooba favourablly responded. The people’s expected the peace and Ache Din for Kashmir that was hugely marketed by PM & BJP-PDP alliance.Kashmiris are hurt and betrayed say Kashmir analysts.
Now that Vohra is in full administrative command -what are the prospects of Kashmir entering the permanent era of peace for a meaningful resolution of the imbroglio in the backdrop of the following-
In Modi regime of last more than four years Kashmir situation worsened. Kashmiris are hurt and betrayed. The militancy has escalated. Boarder with Pakistan became almost warlike with frequent exchange of heavy artillery firing on both sides resulting in heavy casualties of civilian population and displacement. In the valley and elsewhere the death toll of civilians, and security personal was high. The militant ranks swelled despite many top militants liquidated. The BJP-PDP experiment on politics failed. Mainstream political space shrunk. Anti India campaign and radicalisation gained highest currency as a narrative, the socio-cultural institutions are destroyed and the spiritual ethos is imperilled.
Politically the separatist idea persists, in the Valley of Kashmir and parts of Jammu region as well. Militant violence has been a result of the Pakistani support and aid to the militancy which has included not just training and arms, but also sending in personnel into the Valley. The demography of the valley is changed by exile of a religious minority.
Is the murky situation in Kashmir a consequence of the missed steps in country's political handling of the situation? The answer is no. For the reason that all the Union Governments in the past and the present one tried the political approach – it restored the state government, held elections regularly, allocated funds liberally for the development and so on. It has attempted mediation through interlocutors. But these have never been properly followed through.BJP has failed the people the most in last four years.
One of the causes of the new age turbulence is attributed to the betrayal of democratic expectations and the promises made by PM Modi and BJP in the run up campaign in 2014 elections. The youth had participated in large numbers in the electoral process in the 2014 state Assembly elections and voted out the incumbent government. The so called North-South pole alliance Government of BJP-PDP was a positive consequence of the promises. Now the ground reality is that The Government failed the people. How to win back the trust and goodwill of all the sections and respect their aspirations is the Challenge in Kashmir?
Challenge to validity of Article 35-A of Indian Constitution before the Apex Court after sixty years is seen as RSS brainchild and yet another concerted plan of Sangh Parivar to promote its divisive agenda and erode Muslim majority character of the JK State. It has further made separatist sentiments/movement stronger say the moderate educated Kashmiris.
Kashmir”s intelligentsia is surprised that New Delhi’s policy and its political managers are so incompetent, apolitical and naive, as not to be willing to leave any space or room for the Kashmiri leadership to exert a moderating influence that could prevent youngsters from taking up the gun.
There is, the big elephant in the room—Pakistan. Like it or not, any solution of the Kashmir issue requires a two track process involving the domestic separatists,all the stakeholders and the Pakistanis. Despite Country’s best efforts to isolate Pakistan, Islamabad retains the ability to play spoiler in the process through its jihadi proxies. But as of now, New Delhi is firmly against any diplomatic process with Pakistan, so, one can be sure main streaming Kashmir will act as a red rag to the Pakistani bull. Unless, of course, New Delhi plans a parallel initiative with Islamabad.
Tourism, education, health services, law and order, developmental activities and public grievances system have collapsed or stand completely eroded. Democratic institutions have been marginalised and discredited. Drugs, black marketing of essential goods, smuggling of timber, hawala and fake currency have become the backbone of a parallel conflict economy. Everything needs to be put in order by Governor under his rule parallel to with the political reach out process.
The Prime Minister’s political and diplomatic efforts so far have not brought peace in Kashmir. He needs to take a call and prioritise Kashmir as it deserves urgent attention. Prolonged Governor rule only be yet another temporary measure. It cannot substitute democratic process and elections the cardinal rule of the Constitution Unless there is a well considered comprehensive back up political plan to resolve the imbroglio Kashmir may remain in a perpetual boil.
(Ashok Bhan is Senior Advocate Supreme Court of India, Chairman Kashmir Policy & Strategy group)