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Green shoots of political realism and spine in Kashmir


Green shoots of political realism and spine in Kashmir

Sushant Sareen

Over the last fortnight or so, it appears as though the initial fluster that characterised the response of both the state and central government to the unrest in Kashmir is giving way to a more equanimous and collected policy response to the challenges posed by the situation in the state. The roadmap is still inchoate, and the political, economic/development, and security policies that are going to be put in place remain a work in progress. But there is now a greater realism, not just in Delhi but also in Srinagar, about the forces at play to stir up trouble in the Valley. More importantly, the hubris that is so ingrained in the political and permanent establishment of , has received its comeuppance. Rudely awoken from their reverie that all is well in J&K, there is now a quest to look for more enduring and effective solutions that will put an end to the episodic outbursts in Kashmir by marginalising the troublemakers and mainstreaming the rest of the people.

A lot will however depend on whether the emerging resolve to take the new measures and initiatives will continue after this latest bout of unrest ends, or it will fizzle out and the trademark complacency will set in once things return to an uneasy normalcy. The latter would be true to pattern; the former could break the cycle of violence but will not be easy. This will require commitment that goes beyond the election cycle (which in the Indian context is a six month affair because every state election is now overhyped as a referendum on the central government and therefore forces political exigencies on the government to adopt political postures that distract from more onerous issues of importance), and beyond the tenure of any one government. In other words, it will have to be a national initiative that doesn't get derailed by change of government, either in Srinagar, or in Delhi.

For now, at the political level at least, the prevarication and, to an extent, the paralysis of the first few weeks seems to be coming to an end. The Chief Minister of and Kashmir and members of her cabinet have spoken some home truths that in normal circumstances Kashmiri politicians are loath to speak. Going against the dictates of conventional wisdom that these home truths are politically unpalatable and unpopular, the Kashmiri politicians seem inclined to taking the bull by the horn.  In the process, they have started to challenge and debunk the utterly false and one-sided narrative that separatists and their camp followers and sympathisers in the mainstream and social media have been peddling. What is more, they have taken on the cynical and self-serving criticism against the government by the opposition in Kashmir, whose own track record was one of scandalous fecklessness.

Sajjad Lone, a former separatist and now minister in the state cabinet, did not pull any punches when he said that ‘nothing is spontaneous in Kashmir,' clearly indicating that the current unrest is orchestrated, controlled and funded by a network of agent provocateurs. He not only defended the security forces by saying that when their camps are stormed they are forced to respond to rampaging and murderous mobs, but also excoriated the separatists who keep their kids at home while instigating and inciting poor kids to indulge in stone pelting. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was even more forthright in taking on the separatists, the arsonists and their apologists. After her initial silence, even ambivalence (which actually created a sense of drift in the administration and worsened the situation instead of dousing the flames), she has now started leading from the front in saying it like it is. At the same time, she is making it clear that any excesses from the security forces will not be condoned. While she questioned the brouhaha over the encounter in which the terrorist Burhan Wani was killed, she was equally clear that there will be a proper inquiry in the matter of the killing of a college lecturer in Kashmir who was allegedly dragged out of his house and later his body was handed over to the family. She dismissed the separatist propaganda that innocent kids were being targeted by asking if kids march up to army camps to buy toffees or if a 15-year-old killed in police firing was going to fetch milk when he became part of a mob attacking a police station!

Ms Mufti also did not spare Pakistan, blaming it for fomenting trouble in Kashmir and saying that if Pakistan had any concern for the well-being of Kashmiris it would not be inciting and provoking people in Kashmir through its paid agents. While leaving the door open for talks with even the separatists, Mehbooba has drawn a clear red line that talks will be held with only those people who regardless of their ideological predilections seek a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir problem. As for those for whom conflict is a and who stoke, nay ignite, the fire in Kashmir, no purpose will be served in reaching out to them, much less talking to them. The sort of clear stand that the chief minister and members of her cabinet have taken is precisely what was required at this critical juncture to give a sense of purpose, resolve and direction to the administration to end the pusillanimity and bring the situation back under control.

The spine that the J&K government has started showing has been accompanied by the realism that is now seeping into the ruling party at the Centre. The BJP seems to have smelled the coffee as far as the limits of power are concerned. What is more, they seem to have realised the fact that political bluster and bombast can sometimes have unintended consequences of the sort that are being witnessed in the Valley these days. This is not to suggest that what is happening is necessarily the result of anything that the BJP has said or done, only that what appears eminently doable in opposition is a lot more complicated and difficult to do when you actually sit in the seat of power. Thus it is that in a sort of role reversal, the BJP leaders are speaking softly and making conciliatory noises – playing good cop – while the PDP leaders are speaking firmly and laying down rules of the game – playing bad cop. This is exactly as it should be. It is sensible politics by BJP because it creates space for its alliance partner in J&K to do what is required to be done to restore normalcy and then initiate the political and development programme to address the disaffection and alienation in the Valley. The important thing now is that both PDP and BJP don't do anything to disturb this new kind of equilibrium in the alliance. How long both these parties with a penchant for needlessly shooting themselves in the foot can pull this off remains to be seen.

As they go forward, some mistakes will be made, but as long as these are new mistakes, it will be progress. There will also be differences on some of the contentious issues that will inevitably come on the table in the course of political outreach and dialogue with the various players. The trick will lie in how these two political parties can stick to some of their pet issues but change the idiom in which they normally raise these issues. For instance, the BJP can continue to question Article 370 but in a more nuanced manner which isn't jarring or threatening for the people in Kashmir. Similarly, the PDP can stick to its ‘self-rule' idea but package it in a way that it is saleable in Kashmir and also acceptable in the rest of India. For this to be done, it will be important that there is a proper deconstruction and understanding of what the so-called anger is about in the ‘angry youth', who among the youth is ‘angry' and how it can be addressed, if at all.

The road ahead is not going to be easy – the cycle of violence is likely to continue for some more time and could even morph into something more sinister and dangerous – but with the kind of clear thinking and resolve that is now on display, there is some reason for hope that the government will get a better grip of the situation in the days and weeks ahead.

sushant sareenSushant Sareen

The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.


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