Modi's Jammu, Mufti's Kashmir: Will Saffron Flavour Good Governance Or Colour A Perilous Split?

30 December 2014
Deccan Chronicle
Syed Ata Hasnain

New Delhi: Everyone's attention is on the election results in J&K and on the permutations and combinations for government formation. It is good that the democratic dividend, although not resulting in any clear victories or losses, is leading to other fallouts of democracy - choices of all kinds, personal, party, individual and public hope for development initiatives. In the midst of the inevitable confusion which free and fair elections, and the fractured mandate in J&K, which is not surprising in a multi-party democracy, the negatives of separatism have failed to make a statement. Nor has violence taken the upper hand, with a much reduced capacity of the proxies to rule the roost. Does this mean that J&K has turned the tide, politically, socially and security-wise? As we wait for the transition in government, regardless of which formation ultimately comes to power, it is good to keep realities in mind and view what the effect, if any, of the current events will be on future challenges in the state. This is a professional assessment from a holistic angle, free from the political arithmetic. There are many crucial areas of concern - separatism, potential for violence of all kinds, integration, development (including reconstruction and deliverance from the catastrophic effects of the floods on both sides of the Pir Panjal) and governance. Each needs a level of brief analysis. Separatism has two dimensions - pro-Pakistan and pro-Azadi. The pro-Pakistan dimension is virtually a dead issue. Yet, Pakistan perceives that opportunities exist to continue its agenda of destabilisation. It, too, recognises that pro-Pakistan sentiments are at the ebb, but does not treat this as a permanent situation to its disadvantage. Pakistan's security establishment believes that opportunities must be created and managed, in a continuum with its past efforts, notwithstanding what it considers a temporary plateau. Its attention is currently on its own internal security and towards the opportunities in Afghanistan, presented by the ongoing withdrawal of the ISAF. It needs temporary reprieves, with attention towards J&K to keep the issue festering in the eyes of the international community. It also perceives that keeping even a pro-Azadi narrative in place is an imperative to have the pot boiling for a potential and eventual surge towards pro-Pakistan sentiments. This, it can do through support, moral and financial, to the local separatists and employing the sentiments of religious radicalism with the youth as target. Whatever the leanings, the next state government will have to contend with the issues of separatism to a far greater extent than is being currently assessed. The positive turn due to the cumulative effects of two successful democratic exercises conducted in the state through 2014 must not be taken literally as certification of a desire towards mainstreaming. However, it would also not be correct to surmise that the return of stability at the Centre and the potential of a surge in development and good governance in the rest of India have had no effect on the politico-social environment of J&K. It appears that the people of the Valley, in particular, can quite clearly discern between their political aspirations of separatism and the desire to partake in India's social and economic future. That is a big message that has emerged from the elections and the large-scale turnout. That the electoral turnout is not a measure of normalcy, peace, calm, certainty, security or end to the violent activities of the youth bulge needs to be realized. A government believing the opposite would be making erroneous assumptions and opening itself to big mistakes in the long run. The electoral turnout does send strong messages of the desire and aspirations for normalcy, development and good governance free from the scourge of nepotism and corruption. To read the turnout in the Valley as an effort towards rejection of the National parties would also be incorrect. The BJP's efforts in the Valley have led to a footprint hitherto missing, with an attempt to transcend the regional divide. The local parties were better prepared for this due to years of effort and availability of cadres on both sides. However, in their case, too, this did not translate into any major dividends in the Jammu region. What has become clear is that J&K will take much longer, after the current internal conflict, to acquire a political character that will not view the Pir Panjal or the Great Himalayan Range as dividing lines between the people. Thus the ideal government will be one, which can pander to sentiments of all the sub-regions. This will be hard to come by and the expectations may be considered somewhat unrealistic and premature. The new government will have to continue working for some years to deliver sub-regional aspirations and exploit good governance and development fairly and impartially to bring about greater integration. Jammu's great business and industrial potential must be developed as much as its religious tourism sector. Kashmir's agro sector and tourism potential must grow exponentially; currently, the infrastructure does not support even two million tourists a year, and even this has taken a dent after the floods. Similarly, Ladakh requires special attention. Business and economics can create tremendous interdependence between the sub-regions with Jammu holding the key. The winter management of Kashmir and Ladakh are major weaknesses, with solutions very largely lying with Jammu and its business community, which needs empowerment and encouragement to set up partnerships through the government's vision and efforts. This is the way to overcome the negatives of separatism. The deduction by many that the Centre would not be supportive towards a government without a BJP footprint does not take into account the realities of the changing environment. The threat from Pakistan, separatists and radicalism is a threat to India's security, and not to J&K alone. The Centre appears to have clearly understood that there is a need for more robust understanding of J&K's issues beyond just physical security. While every effort is being legitimately made to garner advantage from the electoral results, the larger picture of mainstreaming the state into the national fold and giving it a stake in the future of India is definitely not lost on the Centre. How this pans out will be interesting to observe. In J&K's sensitive security environment there are potential triggers, which are sometimes not easy to discern. The Centre and the new government will no doubt endeavor to jointly enhance the institutional understanding of these while addressing the homogenous and sub-regional aspirations within J&K. The outcome of decisions in as surcharged an environment as is prevalent today cannot easily be discerned, and separatists and Pakistan's security establishment are adept at pouncing on these. Lastly, the domain of violence. While the capacity of proxies to generate violence at will is low by comparison, at least in the hinterland, the same is not so at the LoC and the IB sector. It is these areas that are likely to witness higher levels of violence to enable Pakistan's security establishment to symbolically draw international attention. Plans for effective response need to be drawn up while resisting pressures for any internal drawdown of the Army. J&K is still at the stage of 'Conflict Stabilisation'. For it to cross the Rubicon towards internal 'Conflict Resolution' will remain contingent upon how the new set-up meets the challenges. Actors on the J&K stage: People's Democratic Party: A party launched only 15 years ago has become a force to reckon with. It has, by bagging 28 seats in the J&K Assembly elections, emerged as the largest single party. Its legislators come not only from the Kashmir Valley, where the follies of the region's oldest mainstream political party, the National Conference, and its alleged misrule over the past six years facilitated the PDP to penetrate even the NC's traditional bastions as well as win from Rajouri and Poonch districts of the Jammu region. Bharatiya Janata Party: The saffron party has emerged as the second largest party by winning 25 seats. But all of these are in the Jammu region and it could, in fact, secure these only by consolidating Hindu vote, be it in mainland Jammu or the Chenab valley. The party has failed to inspire the Muslims of Kashmir Valley or the Buddhist-Muslims of Ladakh. That all but one BJP candidate in the Valley actually lost their deposits is quite embarrassing for the party leadership, including PM Narendra Modi, who left no stone unturned to woo voters in all the three regions of the state. National Conference: For its critics, and many admirers too, the NC is a party that failed to adjust itself to the huge changes sweeping the state, and failed to identify itself with the feelings of the people. Rather it willingly brought about its own ruin over the years by committing blunder after blunder, both in and out of power. A party that held sway in all the three regions of the state during the time of Sheikh Abdullah could manage to win only 12 seats this time, nine of them in Kashmir Valley and the rest in the Jammu region. Congress: All said and done, Congress has performed better than others when it comes to claiming to represent all three regions of the state. While it has won three of the four Ladakh seats, its tally in the Valley has only increased to four from the previous three. In the Jammu region, too, it won five seats. SaJjad Gani Lone: The scion of one of Kashmir's robust political leaders of yesteryears, Sajjad Gani Lone, has really emerged as a 'dark horse' as the elections have thrown up a split mandate. Being a pre-poll ally of the BJP, he and his party colleague Bashir Ahmed Dar, who has won from Kupwara, could well demand to have the cake and eat it too. On the other hand, the saffron party can depend on him for any face saving it might need in Muslim-majority Valley. Muhammad Yusuf Tarigami: The CPM's face in J&K, with Independents Sheikh Abdur Rashid (Langate) and Pawan Kumar Gupta (Udhampur), and the regional People's Democratic Front's lone winner, Hakim Muhammad Yasin, holds the key. Hence they have become the most 'sought-after' ones in the game of numbers. While Mr Tarigami and Mr Rashid will ally with any coalition sans the BJP, Mr Yasin has already made his inclination towards the saffron party somewhat perceptible. Mr Gupta is a NC man but for 'strategic reasons' contested as an independent. Muzaffar Hussain Baig: The vice-president of the PDP, who served as deputy chief minister in the previous PDP-Congress government (2002-06), is reported to be keen on a tie-up with the BJP. A senior PDP functionary said, 'He already sees himself riding the horse.' Mr Baig is reported to have argued that J&K, being a cash-starved state and caught in ethnic and regional polarisation, needs a strong political arrangement to rule it for the next six years. According to him, since the BJP and the PDP have emerged as the main representative parties of the two major regions, they alone can fulfill that role. However, his critics say he strongly favours a BJP-PDP combination so that it may pave the way for him to become a minister at the Centre. Mr Baig represents Baramulla in the Lok Sabha. (The writer is a former Commander of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps and a Fellow at both Vivekanand International Foundation and Delhi Policy Group.)