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|November 19, 2002||
Mohammad Sayeed Malik
Just the beginning
Well begun is half done. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed could not have asked for a better setting to start his chief ministership in Jammu & Kashmir.
In a place where the perception of reality matters more than the reality itself, the recent political changeover took place against the backdrop of the general feeling that it was happening for the better. A palpable sense of relaxation in the atmosphere permeated this popular thought. And it continues to grow, thanks to the Mufti-led coalition government's imaginative initiative in giving a people-friendly orientation to the state official machinery.
The immediate gains of this development are more easily visible in the political field than in administrative management. That the chief minister has been going out and drawing fairly good crowds to put across his message indicates a gradual filling up of the vacuum that existed between the rulers and the ruled. Giving content to this interaction, the new government has plunged into a hectic series of meetings of district development boards to take stock of developmental matters.
The officials attending these meetings say the political change at the top is accompanied by a radical change of work culture. The meetings have been businesslike and productive, and the existence of the political executive is being felt all along the line. That is a good beginning, considering that the district development boards overseeing all developmental activity in their areas had become virtually defunct over the past 13 years.
One of the main reasons for the electoral debacle of such a powerful organisation as the National Conference was the failure of its leadership to maintain mass contact. Consequently, all channels of feedback had fallen into disuse. The void between the rulers and the ruled was getting bigger and bigger.
Perhaps nothing explains the difference between the pre-election scenario and the one prevailing now better than the improvement in the power distribution system. The daily load-shedding has been halved from nine hours to four-and-a-half hours, to the relief --- and disbelief --- of the entire population. Just a question of somebody caring to sort out a problem with sensible management.
Incidents of custodial killings, better known here as 'catch-and-kill' cases, have come down considerably. In fact, hardly have any reports been received in the past few weeks. This was one of the biggest irritants in the security situation. The behaviour of the police in general and the Special Task Force in particular shows signs of changing for the better.
Disregard for human dignity and the self-respect of common people has been the bane of the ground situation. Things only got worse after the Farooq Abdullah government took office in 1996 amidst expectations that the civilian face of the government might bring some relief to the people. By comparison, the Mufti government seems to be giving quite high priority to this particular aspect of its commitment.
While Farooq Abdullah and his National Conference are still licking the wounds of their electoral defeat, the Hurriyat Conference is beginning to shows cracks under pressure. The Peoples Democratic Party of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, propelled by his dynamic daughter Mehbooba, is gradually occupying the political space the National Conference had lost to the separatist conglomerate since the outbreak of militancy in 1989-90. Such has been the healthy impact of the conduct and outcome of the recent assembly election that the Hurriyat is going to find it very tough to sell its poll boycott slogan in any future election. If there is anything about the election that one hears these days being said in the streets of Srinagar, the nerve centre of Kashmir politics, it is a sense of regret at having stayed away from the polling booths.
The boycott was most effective only in the capital city, to the advantage of the National Conference. It was the first-ever election in J&K that brought about a change of government. Many did not believe it could ever happen, notwithstanding Chief Election Commissioner J M Lyngdoh's untiring efforts to ensure purity and transparency of the poll process from beginning to end. But for him, assembly poll 2002 would not have made history.
The composition of the coalition also reflects an unprecedented balance between the three regions of the state --- Kashmir, Jammu, and Ladakh. The level of regional tensions, carrying the seeds of communal tension, has always been high in J&K, mainly because of a sense of discrimination and feeling of neglect in Jammu and Ladakh. The policymaking apparatus, as also the (resources) dispensing instruments, used to be seen as Kashmiri-dominated, to the detriment of the other two regions. The Mufti-led coalition is so precariously balanced in this respect that its very survival hinges on harmonising regional aspirations.
All said and done, it is just the beginning. A long, long road is there for the new government to traverse before it finds it feet. But the initial sympathetic chord it has struck at the popular level is by itself a significant phenomenon.
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