God’s own country, Kerala, became the victim of the nature’s wrath and is experiencing the worst floods of the century. It was all over the news, but not for its backwaters, not even for the age-old rightwing-leftwing rivalry, but for the most devastating floods and a humanitarian disaster of epic proportions. The floods left 445 people dead and 15 missing. Within a fortnight, while at least 280,679 people were evacuated, mainly from Chengannur, Pandanad, Aranmula, Aluva, Chalakudy, Kuttanad, and Pandalam. In the hilly regions like Coorg, floods have caused landslides which have exacerbated the destruction of homes, bridges, homes and road networks. 1/6th of the population of the state has been directly affected, and the central government has declared it as a calamity of the level 3 which means the catastrophe of the severe nature. The flow of water in the deluge has led the opening for the 35 of the 42 dams in the state for the first time.
First of all, it deserves attention to explore why the God’s own country has become a symbol of the God’s wrath. For all the farrago of superstitious explanations for the floods coming from various quarters, it need be clear that the eminent ecologist Gadgil has clearly stated the recent floods as a manmade disaster. The 2011 report submitted by Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, headed by ecologist Madhav Gadgil had apparently warned the ill-thought development practices were ruining the ecological sustainability of the Western Ghats hill chain, one of the world’s most biodiverse area. The report had advised many states including Kerala and Karnataka to follow sensible and sustainable development policies by restricting activities such as dams, construction, and quarrying near protected forests in hilly areas. The report was rejected by the Ministry as well as by both states. The worst damage had taken place in areas where the Gadgil committee had recommended protection. Indeed, this is a great warning not just for India for the entire sub-continent. South Asia,has lately been on a development-high economic growth rate spree to improve its infrastructure and cater to its fast-increasing population and its demand for jobs, housing, recreation, and food. With the CPEC, this drove has further strengthened with a strong sense of strategic competition and rivalry. However, the states involved need to exercise caution in this rat-race for development.
Coming back to Kerala, this author would like to address the controversial issue of foreign aid for Kerala floods. Many Indian media platforms are running stories of India rejecting foreign assistance from UAE and projecting it as an example of inhumanity. These media stories have strong undertones of turning the issue into a political vendetta against the existing government. The implied meanings suggest that the aid was rejected because the central government is being partial against the state government as the state is run by a non-BJP regime. Further, one can also sense a subtle intent to give a communal color to the issue as the state of Kerala has a substantial Muslim population working in gulf countries, following a Wahabi school of Islam with strong cultural and economic linkages with Arab nations.
However, it appears that the issue is being blown out of proportion. The media and intellectual quarters are not applying rational minds, and their op-eds are loaded with political baggage. First and foremost, I would like to mention that there was no formal offer of aid through official channels by UAE. It was merely a verbal gesture. Secondly, the policy of not accepting foreign aid was started by former PM Manmohan Singh when US and Japan offered humanitarian assistance during 2013 Uttarakhand floods. Before that in 2004 also, India did not accept the US aid provided for Tsunami rehabilitation. The reason being India is economically self-sufficient, and it has a robust disaster management infrastructure. India is currently the sixth largest economy and 2nd largest in terms of population. It has the ability to generate surplus plus finds for natural and man-made disasters like Kerala floods. There are paramilitary cadres and organizations like CRPF, Army and National Disaster Response Force with high-quality expertise in the field.
Further, as stated by Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen. VK Singh in the parliament that over the past many years India has become a nation that has given more foreign aid to other countries than it received in the last three years. He also explicitly mentioned that as the country’s international stature and economic heft grows, India should avoid taking aid from foreign countries. Hence accepting foreign assistance does not rhyme well with India’s growing global stature and economic heft.
Another question that comes to mind while accepting foreign aid is its informal and unwritten obligations. If a country takes assistance from a foreign country, in many ways, it may lose its strategic autonomy. Hence, when India is in the position to finance its relief efforts, it would not be sane to accept foreign aid. Further, the state and center have done a commendable job in disaster management so far in Kerala. The state has provided shelter to one million people in 3000 shelters, and the center has provided the assistance of INR 600 cr. All Indian states have provided financial and other kinds of assistance to Kerala. Many civil servants, politicians and ordinary civilians have donated their one month’s salary to Kerala.
In an interview to the Economic Times, the state CM Vijayan expressed gratitude to center for cooperating and providing relief assistance-“I need to make it clear in no uncertain terms that the government of India was forthcoming and responded positively. PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited the flood-hit areas and have been understanding the situation fully”.
India has sincerely expressed her gratitude to Pakistan’s new government for offering relief assistance but as per the policy, has not accepted it. However, this need not be the reason to deduce that it is a jolt to peace-making efforts between the two countries. In fact, in official and civilian circles Pakistan’s offer has been appreciated. In India, people have strong hopes with Imran Khan’s NayaPakistan. Imran Khan is already a hero in India because of his tree-plantation initiative in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. His earlier interactions with India during his cricket career and his study of Indian states like Bihar prove in no uncertain terms that he has a better understanding of India and its concerns. I believe that his vast public following, sincerity and out-of-the-box thinking makes a perfect combination in achieving a breakthrough in Indo-Pakistan relations provided he get enough support from the deep state and Pak army. On India’s side, Prime Minister Modi has expressed his commitment to good India-Pakistan ties. He has clearly stated that India is looking for constructive and meaningful engagement with Pakistan.
Hence, there is no reason for biased and the hate-mongering Cassandras to portray India’s refusal to accept Pakistan help as an indication of stiffening relations between the two countries and make doomsday predictions. However, it needs to be mentioned that substantial progress and dialogue between India and Pakistan can take place in an overall atmosphere of peace and goodwill. If the issue of terrorism is addressed, then the sky is the limit for cooperation between India and Pakistan.
Kashmir-Developments in the last six months and challenges ahead
After the break-up of the tumultuous political alliance between the PDP-BJP on 19th June 2018, the Governor rule was formalized for the eight’s time in Kashmir on June 20, 2018. Once again, it seemed that the history has destined to write off any possible solution for peace and thrown the saffron vale into the recurring spells of political crises and relatively stable governor rule, in an overarching backdrop of militancy peaking and plunging as per the interests of Pakistan. Amidst the flood of the op-eds dissecting the causes and circumstances of the PDP-BJP break-up, an objective piece authored by Mr. CD Sahay, a veteran Kashmir hand and former RAW chief, made a thought-full observation- “The moot point here is to try to understand where does Kashmir go from here (Kashmir-An Analysis of Recent Developments, VIF, 22/6/2018).”
Governor NN Vohra who took over the charge had a vast experience of handling Kashmir, first as Home Secretary then as the interlocutor and then serving the state as a Governor for almost a decade. However, on 21st August, Shri Satya Pal Malik, the then Governor of Bihar was appointed to Kashmir as the new governor. The appointment itself became a subject matter of great concern and curiosity for political analysts and geopolitical experts because Mr. Satya Pal is the first politician to be appointed as the Governor of the conflict-ridden state. Before his appointment, the state of J&K had the experience of dealing with governors having a military, intelligence and a bureaucratic background. Even the mainstream political leadership and the separatist leaders of Kashmir had a tough time fully comprehending the appointment of a political governor. However, the selection of Mr. Malik was a clear reflection of the fact that Delhi is sensitive to the political aspirations and the identity of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The appointment suggested that Delhi approach towards Kashmir is not a security-centric narrow approach. Further, it also indicated that Delhi wants to provide a healing touch to the state riven with militancy and bloodshed, but without any compromise on the principle of zero-tolerance to terror.
Though Delhi did not state its objectives of sending a political governor to J&K, when it is going through a profoundly disturbing phase of terrorism with an increasingly active participation of the homegrown cadres, categorically, an objective analysis of the developments in the last six months of the governor rule can be immensely helpful in understanding what such an alternate strategy can potentially achieve in Kashmir. Further, the previous six months of governor-rule have some interesting answers to Mr. Sahay’s question about the Kashmir’s journey ahead.
On the terrorism front, the Indian security forces have achieved exemplary success. The latest data released by the JKP shows that in 2018 the security forces neutralized 267 militants in CASO, the highest figure in the last 12 years (Business Standard, 31/12/2018). The achievement has been against heavy odds. The police had to face immense social and psychological pressure when Hizbul Mujahiddin kidnapped their family members. Further, in South Kashmir where the alienation levels are high, the local police officials have been steadfast in their commitment and loyalty towards their duty. Except for the few unfortunate incidents, the operations were clean with a minimal number of civilian causalities. Also, this needs to be read in the backdrop of the fact that in most of the CASO, the outer line of the security forces has to deal with an aggressive and highly radicalized mob of stone-pelters, with the internal team directly engaging the militants. To keep restraint in the face of highly violent and radicalized mobs, to avoid civilian deaths, is an extraordinary feat which SFs displayed in J&K and they deserve all the credit for that.
The overall security situation has remained in control. The incidents of stone-pelting have sharply fallen, and terrorist recruitment has also drastically reduced. In this period, Kashmir witnessed a peaceful, free and fair ULB and Panchayat elections. The violence-free elections in the conflict state where there is a history of election-time violence is indeed a great achievement under the stewardship of Shri Satpal Malik. Barring the areas in South Kashmir, the voting percentage has been highly encouraging. The participation of the rural and urban folks is reflective of their faith in the institutions of secular and democratic India.
In the past, Governor Rule has often been seen as an imposition of Delhi’s will on the state to implement its agenda. However, this time around the story is different. In some of the initial interviews, the honourable governor spelt out his mission to kill militancy rather than militants. The idea of defeating militancy has struck a chord with the youth of the state. His unfettered, informal and friendly style of outreach which includes directly receiving the phone calls of ordinary citizens and the immediate disposal of public grievances has been received very positively. It has generated a ray of hope and the desire to participate in state institutions.
Further, his focus on youth empowerment, counter-radicalization, job creation, quality education, good governance, and anti-corruption drive has been received with great enthusiasm. It needs to be understood in the backdrop of the fact that the over the last decade, the youth in J&K has been suffering from a strong sense of despondency, alienation, and pessimism because of nepotism, corruption and poor governance during the popular governments. As a result, they lost faith in the democratic institutions and governance and to soothe them in such state of despondency, there was a heavy dose of Pak-sponsored religious extremism and radicalization leading to violence, thereby both of them feeding into each other.
The initiatives against corruption such as the cancellation of the reliance-med claim scheme, repealing Roshni Act (29/11/2018, Indian Express) , appointment of 582 candidates in J&K bank (21/10/2018, Kashmir Images) who, allegedly did not qualify because of a massive corruption in selection process and vigorous action against by the hitherto inactive vigilance departments against corrupt government officials have made a substantial impact in the minds of rebellious and angry youth who out of utter frustration and anger chanted Azadi over the most mundane issues such as water and electricity.
In the field of development, the decision-making process has become fast. SAC sanctioned 40 new colleges for the state (Kashmir Reader 5/9/2018). The 2018-19 budget allocated 32 crores for the five new medical colleges expected to be operational by 2019. In a landmark development, the North Eastern Industrial development package has been extended for the Jammu and Kashmir (Daily Excelsior, 22/12/2018). The package includes GST and income tax reimbursement, employment incentives and transport incentives. It will give a significant boost to industrial and tourism development.
Further, as an independent observer, I could witness a perceptible change in the approach that usually is expected from a governor with a political background. To begin with, in his earliest interviews Mr. Malik candidly accepted that there were mistakes on behalf of Delhi also in the past. The statement made a significant impact on the politically sensitive youth of Kashmir. It is easy to discern from the public speeches of the governor that he is trying to inject an alternate narrative by focusing on development and youth empowerment. There is a particular focus on sports activities like football and cricket. The state administration had declared to construct stadiums in each district. Youth organizations engaged in promoting sports activities are being supported morally and financially. Besides, in his various speeches, he has also shown intent to engage young minds and lead them towards wisdom and rationality by taking a rational and principled stand against glaring economic disparities in Kashmir, religious radicalization, poor governance, and bureaucratic corruption.
The decision of dissolving the state assembly was politically a very sensitive one. The decision to dissolve the assembly was taken honestly and impartially. Governor categorically stated that close to the date of dissolving the state assembly, he was continuously receiving briefs on the horse-trading activities and the use of other under-hand tactics by political parties to form the government. As an independent observer, I also witnessed that the valley was rife with the rumors of political defections and other illicit activities. The decision to dissolve the assembly was indeed an ethical and principled defense of democracy. Amidst all the alienation that the state is currently suffering from, it saved the faith of the people of Kashmir in India’s democracy and constitution, to a great extent. It is one decision which will be a sharp arrow in Delhi arsenal during any dialogue process in the future.
To begin with, it needs to be mentioned that the security forces deserve all the due credit for neutralizing a record number of militants this year (257). However, about 305 militants (TRT World, 26/12/2018) are still active in the valley. It clearly shows that a lot needs to be done to address the issue of recruitment. Without bringing the recruitment levels down, the whole fight against militancy is nothing more than pruning where we are keeping the seeds of militancy intact. To make a step in this direction, one, at first, needs to make an objective an honest assessment of the causes of militancy. As an independent researcher, I believe that the roots of the militancy lie majorly in the religious radicalization seconded by the alienation of the people. The “alienation” is a wide-ranging term that encapsulates people’s frustration, mistrust, and anger due to poor governance, the dismal state of public infrastructure, nepotism, corruption, human right violations, and the bureaucratic arrogance. We need to address the two root causes with an immediate effect. Currently, the morale of the militant groups is very low due to the success of security forces in counterinsurgency operations and the loss of legitimacy as the right way of struggle. Besides, local militant groups are also not getting the desired support from their foreign controllers. It appears that tight vigil on borders, India’s tough and consistent stand of the impossibility of terror and talks going together, international isolation and the dire economic situation have put the establishment in Pakistan under pressure. Hence, this is the most opportune and a strategic moment to crackdown on the Pak-sponsored infrastructure of radicalization and terror financing.
Another challenge is to bring down the alienation. Here, I would like to mention that development efforts, promoting sports and economic packages are beautiful initiatives. However, no matter how much we try all the initiatives mentioned above, we cannot achieve much unless we decide to engage young minds in a dialogue. We need to engage them psychologically, giving them a sense of dignity, empowerment, and involvement. These are not some complicated issues requiring centrally-monitored policy guidelines. A lot can be archived by the informal and friendly initiatives of DCs and SPs and other state-level civil servants.
I must say that as regards alienation the situation on the ground is not very encouraging and if the right steps are not taken at this stage the consequences in the future can be profoundly disturbing for the country. Further, there is significant youth bulge in Kashmir. Literacy and awareness levels are very high. If their energies are channelized in the right direction and towards productive ends, it will dissipate either into drugs or into religious extremism leading to violent. Hence, at this stage, we need to think beyond the narrow-political interests and bring back an element of vision and strategic thinking in our Kashmir policy. Secondly, the change also needs to be perceptible in implementation, and for that, we need a significant overhaul in the work-culture of the state bureaucracy, otherwise hollow promises getting lost in the hubris of officialdom will be even more detrimental.
The third challenge is to revive a vibrant political process in the state. The mainstream political parties have lost legitimacy and credibility because of political opportunism, abysmal track record in governance and high levels of corruption in development projects and formal recruitments. The loss of faith in the mainstream political parties is also an essential cause of alienation and mistrust. The social and cultural space lost by the secular, rational and principled politics has been quite successfully captured by organization engaging in religious radicalization through charity and social service. In such a social milieu, the desperate and power-hungry political parties are highly likely to exploit the anti-India sentiment by going soft on separatists and terrorists.
Further, they are also likely to condone the destructive activities of the organizations engaging in religious radicalization. Such a democratic campaign even if followed by a free and fair election will be detrimental to the interests of the state in the long run. Hence, it is indeed a significant challenge to restore and revive a constructive and healthy democratic process in the state.
Fourthly, we also face the task of empowering the ULBs and Panchayats. The morass into which the youth of the state has drowned into can be fixed to a large extent by the empowerment of local self-government institutions. Further such an exercise will revive the faith of the people in the strength and rationale of democracy. The impact can be seen in the form of enthusiastic response of the youth to the efforts of the young Mayor of Srinagar. There is a real threat that if the ULBs and panchayats are not sufficiently empowered, they may be weakened by the mainstream politicians when they come back to power after assembly elections. Kashmir needs synergized efforts of the Sarpanch and the MLA not a situation of rivalry between the two. Hence the grassroots democracy needs to be strengthened.
To conclude, I would like to make a point which as a researcher I would suggest that it merits an urgent and acute attention. We need a long-term vision, strategy and a roadmap for Kashmir based on a nuanced and a cross-disciplinary understanding of the past, present and future.
Decoding the Shah Faesal Phenomenon in Kashmir
2018-winters in Kashmir valley have not been just snowy, chilly and quiet. Instead, they have been bloody and full of political upheavals. They began with the appointment of the first political governor, Shri Satyapal Malik, an old socialist and man with a golden heard that bleeds for the downtrodden and needy of the society. It was followed by the episode of ‘bad fax machine’ and astounding success of the security forces (SFs) in neutralizing the record number of militants (267) in the valley after 2006. However, the success of the SFs is dampened by the fact that the valley still has more than 300 active militants, clearly demonstrating the dangerous levels of alienation amongst the youth. Finally, the political roller-coaster has arrived with the resignation of Shah Faesal, the poster boy of India who topped civil services in 2010 at the peak of civil unrest in the Kashmir valley.
It is said that the Kashmiri mind is a layered mind, and the decades of conflict and intelligence wars in Kashmir has made it a Mecca of mirrors and shades with umpteen number of smokescreens deftly hiding the reality. Shah Faisal’s resignation has many meanings for the present and future of Kashmir. To understand them, one needs to read between the lines and that cannot happen without a nuanced understanding of Kashmir. First and foremost, it is indeed a subject to seriously ponder upon that what led the man who topped the prestigious Indian Administrative Services and was once a poster boy of India, to resign with strong separatist undercurrents flooding his mind. All the reasons stated by him- activities of the cow vigilantes, highly-security centric approach, and unabated encounter-deaths in Kashmir in the lack of a serious outreach by the central government, attempts to target the special status of Kashmir, subversion of the constitutional institutions and the condition of minorities are all great reasons for any upright, aware and a public-spirited civil servant to feel concerned about and even resign in extreme circumstances.
However, the question arises that- Is this it or is there something beyond what appears?
There are several reasons to raise this question. Shah Faesal has raised relevant issues, but it seems he has not been objective and honest in the exercise. He has not questioned the daunting challenge of religious radicalization and extremism in Kashmir. In one of his interviews, he alleges that the Kashmiri youth is joining militancy only for a political cause. However, the realities contravene his assessment. Most of the video and audio content released by militant organizations in Kashmir on social media have an explicitly religious content invoking youth to wage jihad against infidels. Zakir Musa, commander of Ansar Ghazwat ul Hind, who has a significant following among the Kashmiri youth openly talks about bringing an Islamic caliphate in Kashmir. Shah Faesal’s silence on religious radicalization which is one of the significant causes of militancy in the state, smacks of ulterior motives and intellectual dishonesty.
Further, he has also not spoken about the menace of drug addiction among the youth and atrocities faced by Sikh and Hindu minorities in the state. Blaming Delhi for all the problems of Kashmir is a convenient tool for hiding the root causes of the conflict. The center has released massive development funds for the state time and again. However, the infrastructure, employment scenario and industrial sector and other development areas are in a pathetic state in Kashmir, for which the corruption and poor governance of the mainstream political parties and the state bureaucracy are responsible.
Though Shah Faesal has a massive following among the youth, mostly visible on social media, the valley is rife with rumors that Shah Faesal is a proxy hero propped up by foreign or domestic actors. However, it needs to be seen in the light of the fact that Kashmir being a conflict zone, is generally flooded with conspiracy theories. Further, the young students of Kashmir University told this author that if he wanted to serve Kashmiris, he could have done that as a bureaucrat. On the condition of anonymity, a research scholar from Kashmir University argued that as a civil servant he could not do anything for Kashmiris and now he wanted to be a super-bureaucratic with more resources and power that comes along with the one’s status as a legislator or a minister.
Nevertheless, Shah Faesal represents the youth sentiment. The militancy in Kashmir, at this stage, is majorly a youth problem. Youth alienation and resentment is taking ugly and dangerous forms. All attempts aimed at finding a strictly military solution to this highly sophisticated psychological war thriving on youth resentment, are doomed to fail. We need to reach out to youth, talk to them and give them a sense of empowerment, dignity, and involvement. We need to engage them psychologically. In this exercise, Shah Faesal and his following can work wonders. First of all, I must say that he has been very candid in expressing his political ambitions. His admission that his journey from civil services to politics is not out of hopelessness but out of a higher sense of purpose reflects his commitment and strong faith in the idea of India, its democracy and constitutional values. He also stated in his interviews that he is disturbed but the acts of mob-lynching in India. While he says this, he reflects a basic Kashmiri sentiment. While doing field research in Kashmir, the author found that the treatment of minorities in India has a significant impact of Kashmiri psyche. To this author, this appears to be an overt manifestation of the robust bond of cultural and civilizational unity that exists between Indian and Kashmir.
Further, the very fact that he is talking about joining the mainstream politics or starting an NGO presents an ideal example for the Kashmiri youth. The message is loud and clear- i.e., the solution lies in non-violence, peace and the revival of democratic politics. The timing of his statement is critical because in the present phase, in Kashmir, the mainstream parties and Hurriyat have lost credibility because of corruption, bad governance and lack of commitment to public interests. His aspirations become a politician demonstrates his faith in the utility of mainstream democratic politics. At a stage, when even some research scholars joined militancy for the wrong reasons, the arrival of Shah Faesal will be immensely useful in diverting the thoughts, wisdom, and energies of the youth from the path of mindless bloodshed and violence towards the way of peace and democratic process. However, addressing youth alienation needs a sincere outreach by the state and central government and good governance along with Shah Faesal’s charisma and ideals.
Regarding the future, the author believes that at this stage if Dr. Faesal joins politics, he runs the risk of losing legitimacy among his youth followers because of high levels of resentment among the educated youth against the mainstream political parties for the reasons mentioned earlier in the article. Dr. Faisal might want to play safe and start with a civil society initiative. However, in the long run, joining the mainstream politics is worth its while. Lastly, the Indian national media should welcome his arrival on the public scene either as a mainstream politician or a civil society member. Maligning his image and vilifying him as an anti-national will further alienate the youth. If any criticism has to be done, then it should be logical and not out of vendetta.
The Story of Assembly Dissolution in Kashmir
In politics, often seemingly trivial events end up playing a much more significant role in shaping the future course of history. In India also, small events ended up forming history and determining the trajectory of politics several times for example, the divine intervention in the famous battle between Akbar and the Hindu General Hemu in the 2nd battle of Panipat (1556), the stomach ache of Maharaja Hari Singh in 1947, the long-lasting prayer session of the former PM Narasimha Rao and most recently, the bad fax machine of Jammu Rajbhawan.
This author studying Kashmir from close quarters felt compelled to write this story because the mainstream media could hardly do any justice in its coverage of the governor’s decision to dissolve the J&K assembly. Its coverage was confined to taking sarcastic jibes at the bad fax machine, which might have a unique appeal to its reading-deprived and disturbed young audience trying to fix their concentration issues and smart-phone addictions by resorting to 5 to7 minute read articles. In case, the coverage ventured beyond the story of the lousy fax machine; it merely peddled trendy lies and conspiracy theories of the left-liberals using fashionable allegations that the current government is just destroying all the democratic institutions. However, none of the major mainstream media organizations came up with a nuanced analysis of such a serious issue having ramifications not just on the current local politics but on the geopolitics of entire South Asia. Hence, in this commentary, this author would like to unfold the events and rumors that led to the wise and tactful decision by the first political governor of the state.
Contrary to the narrative projected by the mainstream media that the Governor’s decision was sabotage of democracy under the pressure of the central government, the fact is that neither the mainstream parties are seen as democratic in J&K anymore, nor the decision of the Governor was under the pressure of the central government.
The mainstream political parties and the separatist Hurriyat have lost all credibility in Kashmir. In popular perception, they are seen as dynastic and elitist groups who have done nothing for the ordinary Kashmiri people. Over the last several decades of their governments, the governance has been atrociously inefficient, and corruption has been massive. The public goods like good governance, infrastructure, and education and economic development were the last priority for the popular governments. The youth is frustrated with huge corruption scandals and nepotism in government recruitment. The ordinary Kashmiris feel that the sons and daughters of leading political faces and Hurriyat leaders study in elite colleges in India and abroad, they own property in India and foreign countries and enjoy privileges from India, Pakistan and many other international NGOs and intelligence agencies. Whatever little credibility the Hurriyat had was shattered by the NIA raids that came out with strong evidence of their leaders involved in terror financing and inciting.
Recently, when Governor Malik cleared the appointment of 582 young Kashmiris in J&K bank whose names were allegedly removed from the list during the Mahbooba government to placate some vested interests, the Kashmiri youth was jubilant. Similarly, when the new Governor abolished the controversial reliance mediclaim insurance policy and vowed to root out corruption in the state, the common Kashmiri was immensely happy. Also, in many recent interviews, the Governor Malik’s bright and bold stand on the issues of governance, corruption and youth empowerment has generated hope, enthusiasm and the right kind of momentum for the future of Kashmir. The positive response to the Governor’s rule was seen in the fact the incidents of stone pelting and terrorist recruitment have significantly come down after the imposition of the Governor rule.
The goodwill and the positivity generated by the initiatives of Governor Malik was interspersed with the rumours of horse-trading to form the government on the part of both BJP-PC combine and the other group comprising PDP, NC, and Congress. As a researcher working at the grassroots in the valley, I distinctly recall that immediately after the imposition of Governor rule, the rumour mills of MLAs defecting for money or under pressure, had started. Informed sources told this author that under-hand activities for the government formation had sharply increased. As the Governor said in several press conferences that Mahbooba Ji called him up and apprised that her MLAs were being lured by money. She also told that the PDP MLAs were pressurized to defect and if they refused they would be framed by NIA. Such activities and complaints regarding them did coincide with the defections of prominent PDP leaders like Imran Aziz Ansari and Muzaffar Hussain Beg. Further, informed sources also told this author that prominent PDP leader Altaf Bukhari made a trip to the US and the Congress leader Amarinder Singh Mika visited Myanmar in the recent past. Such suspicious trips to foreign countries, coming close on the heels of officially sending the proposal to form the government, make it extremely difficult to rule out the possibility of the foreign hand in engineering the “unholy alliance” of PDP-NC-Congress.
The Kashmiri people were hoping that the Governor will not allow the formation of any under-hand government, and their hopes had become stronger after the Governor’s assurances earlier, to that effect. In the past, the money-factor had not played a vital role in the Kashmir electoral politics but lately, i.e. in the last four months money had passed through various hands for giving birth to an undemocratic and illegitimate government to satiate the power hunger of the traditional ruling elites. Even if the government had been allowed to take the oath, it would not have lasted longer because the parties which came together in this unnatural alliance have been diametrically opposite, ideologically. However, the predictions about PDP-NC-Congress coalition are not, rather even a relevant issue. The attention-worthy aspect is that if the governor had allowed the formation of government through underhand-tactics, it would have been the biggest mockery of democracy. It would have completed the sense of alienation that Kashmiris suffer from because of the bad governance and corruption of the previous popular governments, not to mention the role played by the lack of political dialogue, slow death of Kashmririyat due to religious radicalization and incidents of human rights violations by the armed forces. The trust –deficit would have further, and the remnants of faith in the credibility of India’s democracy would have shattered.
Several prominent politicians, sane intellectual and civil society voices, the young scholars and the former separatists told this author that the best way forward is to dissolve the assembly and focus on the governance and grievances of the common public. Kashmir in the current phase is going through a unique variety of militancy that is homegrown, rooted in Islamic radicalization and actively propped up by the cyber operations of Pakistan. Also, to pump more action, there is a massive inflow of drugs in the valley, and some unofficial estimates suggesting that plus 50% of the youth takes drugs. The Jihadi intoxication and drug addiction complement each other, rendering young minds highly vulnerable to false propaganda and religious extremism. Further, It has become a war of narratives where the widespread frustration over bad governance and corruption is packaged as the demand for azadi. Hence, at this stage, if a government is resulting from defections and horse-trading, and is manned by traditional ruling elites who have already lost credibility, it will end up adding fuel to the fire and make matters worse.
Another issue that came up was that the governor acted partially under the pressure of central government. If the governor had decided in a partisan manner, then he would have invited Sajjad Lone and BJP to form the government. According to unofficial sources, the latter’s claim was more robust. PDP’s proposal did not have an official letter from NC and Congress supporting the claim. Adding a twist to the whole drama, Dr. Farukh Abullah’s brother and 2nd man in NC, Mustafa Kamal, a day before had clearly said that supporting PDP would be the biggest blunder (Kashmir Images, November 21 2018).
On the other hand, several prominent PDP MLAs had already left PDP and joined Lone’s People’s Conference. Muzaffar Hussain Beg, PDP’s principal ideologue and founder-member, left PDP and indicated his interest to join PC. Similarly, another PDP leader Imran Aziz Ansari had also left PDP. Before that PC’s Junaid Mattoo had been elected the mayor of Srinagar. Hence, PC-BJP combine’s position was much stronger in addition to the fact that PC’s public image is also much better than PDP, NC, and Congress, maybe because it is a new entrant or people are too frustrated with the traditional dynastic parties. After the initial defections of the leaders mentioned above, there was a strong possibility of a vast segment of PDP legislators breaking away from the party. On the condition of anonymity, prominent PDP politicians told this author that Mahbooba Ji felt a tremendous existential threat to the survival of PDP, and she was continuously requesting the governor s to dissolve the assembly.
The alliance of PDP-NC-Congress would have been extremely dangerous for the inter-community relations and the unity of the state. In J&K, as it is well known, the ties between the Kashmir valley, Jammu and Ladakh are not very cordial. Deliberating upon them needs a separate essay. However, for this article, suffice it to say that if PDP-NC-Congress government had been allowed, it would have resulted in the government with an overwhelming representation of Muslims and the valley region. The Jammu and Ladakh would have been marginalized. It would have fanned communal fires and widened the rift between the three regions, in an already troubled state. There could have been a major public protest in Jammu and Ladakh. Here, the readers should also know that Mufti Sahab had rejected the idea of PDP-NC-Congress alliance after 2014 elections for the same reasons which I outlined above, as told by a prominent PDP politician on the condition of anonymity.
Last and the most critical question- why wasn’t the assembly dissolved earlier? Well, even the answer to this question is also not very difficult. Ideally, the state assembly should have been dissolved by the former Governor Mr. Vora. However, barring Omar and Mahbooba, none of the legislators suggested dissolving of the assembly to the Governor for various reasons ranging from the hindrances in ongoing development works to the political and security complications. The new governor was democratic and considerate by letting the assembly continue in consideration of the fact that it would allow the legislators to maintain contact with their voters and would strengthen the spirit of democracy in the long run. However, when the horse trading and underhand activities started crossing all the limits in the last 20 days, there was no option left except to dissolve the assembly.
The events mentioned above and the analysis makes it amply clear that the dissolving the assembly had become a necessity in the larger interests of the people and to guard the soul of democracy. Moreover, the allegations and criticism of the Governor’s decision by the mainstream political parties are primarily motivated by the desire to build upon the remnants of the lost credibility in public eyes.
To conclude, this author would request the mainstream media to have a nuanced approach while analyzing a sensitive issue like Kashmir. Their faulty analysis, lies and conspiracy theories coming out of their hatred for the ruling party, absence of professional ethics and training, the lack of intellectual depth and the desire to placate the breaking India forces for monetary gains, makes it easier for Pakistan and anti-India elements in the state to sustain the conditions congenial for militancy. The TRP hungry 24/7 news channels must realize it that their actions result is the bloodshed and if this realization does not come voluntarily, the day is not far when it might have to come the hard way.
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