Azad tried his level best to stay in power by garnering support of Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference (NC).
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 skulduggery and ruthless power games in Kashmir over the last ten years since he held the job.
He took over on June 26, 2008, when the state was in utter turmoil over the transfer of land to the Sri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) by the state government headed by Ghulam Nabi Azad with the support of Muftis’ PDP. Azad’s government was toppled by Mufti Syeed by withdrawing support.
Azad tried his level best to stay in power by garnering support of Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference (NC). Abdullah did not respond to Azad’s frantic calls in London where he was enjoying playing golf with his Delhi-based businessman. Azad could only talk to Abdullah through the businessman’s phone but to his dismay Farooq did not say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and finally Omar Abdullah conveyed to Azad, that too through an intermediary, that the NC was not interested. Azad finally resigned.
Vohra as Governor was asked to hold elections immediately and he 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 per cent turnout in the state.
Such is the ruthless power game in Kashmir that Mehbooba Mufti was dealt in no decent way. She was in usual business in the midst of administrative meetings in the civil 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 as BJP and PDP took more than two months to negotiate their coalition. Again after Mufti Sayeed’s death in January 2016, his daughter took three months to take over as chief minister. Vohra personally is said to have advised Mehbooba Mufti as Center’s emissary to lead the government which Mehbooba favour-ably responded to. 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 rule of last more than four years, Kashmir situation has worsened. The militancy escalated, borders with Pakistan became almost warlike with daily 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 stood very high. The militants ranks swelled despite many top militants being 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.
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 to 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 Pole-South Pole’ alliance government of BJP-PDP was a positive consequence of the promises. Now, the ground reality is that the government has failed the people. How to win back the trust and goodwill of all the sections and respect their aspirations is the challenge in Kashmir.
What the government is up to is not clear. So far, it has operated with the belief that past policies of dealing with the issue were too soft. There was need to show the Kashmiris that militancy will not work and that they could not expect any political mileage and concessions by gun-toting. So after hammering the separatists by systematically killing their militants, moving aggressively against their overground workers and curbing the stone-throwers. The conditions in the valley have been grim in the past year particularly not just for the militants, but their supporters and the average citizens. What the government seems to be saying is that ‘we can give you more of this, until an opportunity for a way out is found’. It has signalled that it is willing to undertake a dialogue through an ex-IB chief. Kashmiris have debunked such an approach by refusing to talk to the Centre’s Pointman.
Kashmir is a political problem that calls for an out of box approach. Kashniris are fatigued of violence and loss of innocent lives. The societal psyche has convinced itself that separation from India is impossible and impractical. A dignified exit route from the current turmoil is the new mantra the Kashmiris are craving for.
A comprehensive process to resolve the issues instead of dithering is the way out. Whether PM Modi or the BJP has the mind to attempt a policy shift in Kashmir affairs, or wait till after 2019 general election results is the buzz in the valley.
The government should acknowledge that use of military force alone is not a solution to the complex situation of Kashmir. It has to be a blend of engagement and dialogue with all the stakeholders. It is the psychological, attitudinal, social, political and economic grievances that need to be addressed. Therefore, the government should worry more about winning back the trust of the people and let the terrorism be handled by the security forces. The unabated turmoil and political turbulence in Kashmir is rooted deep in the denial of justice, disrespect to legitimate aspirations and frequent skulduggery resorted to by New Delhi.
Governor rule may bring some success to security forces in eliminating top militant leaders. How to tackle the rising recruitment to the militant ranks of even highly educated youngsters? It is reported that since Governor’s rule more than a dozen educated youngsters have joined militant ranks. Militancy in the valley also seemed to be changing qualitatively with fidayeen (suicide) attacks taking place over and over again. The militancy in the valley, however, also seems to have developed an autonomous raison d’etre in the absence of a comprehensive policy.
The changing character of the insurgency/militancy is a serious warning signal that an urgent policy correction at all levels of governance, and a strategic shift, is urgently needed to prevent escalation and further radicalisation.
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.
Pakistan and militancy have managed to devastate and destabilise the rich socio-cultural ethos of the people of Kashmir and imperilled the spiritual value structure by imposing radicalisation. Kashmir has been on the boil for more than 29 years. Tens of thousands of people, both civilians and soldiers, have died and the population of Kashmiri pandits exiled. Kashmir affairs are seemingly messed up. Terrorism has rendered the state, especially the valley, without liberty and individuality. It has devastated the economy, education and normal living pattern, the plural ethos, and imperilled institutions. The societal psyche is turning cynical and despondent.
In the name of self-determination, people have no voice of their own and the emotions are controlled and charged by proxies. People know the disastrous consequences of the harm Pakistan and terrorists have done to the current and future generations of Kashmir. But the anti-India sentiment that has grown over the years is so strong that people refuse to see the logic.
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 that mainstreaming 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.
New Delhi needs to approach the issues keeping in sight the fact that India’s strategic interests are intertwined with the goodwill of the valley’s ordinary people including Kashmiri pandits, and not the land alone. Kashmir deserves consensus support of all the political parties and civil society groups for peace and peaceful life and liberty to its current and future generations before the new age violent unrest and upsurge gets further out of hand.
Dealing with the Kashmir affairs without taking all the stakeholders on board would be like behaving bull would in a china shop. The Union of India needs to act now and engage with the youth of today and Kashmir’s leadership in a serious dialogue. Political dialogue with all the stakeholders is an internationally acknowledged jurisprudence for conflict resolution. For New Delhi, it would be the prudent and astute political approach for a resolution of the Kashmir imbroglio.
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’s 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.
The writer is a senior Supreme Court lawyer and chairman of the Kashmir Policy and Strategy Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org