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Kashmir: Ghulam Nabi's sorry plight
July 21, 2006
His job's just got tougher with India downing shutters on talks with Pakistan.
The Kashmir earthquake had devastated parts of the state and divided families were weeping for those who had lost kin on the other side of the border. Adding to the greyness of the winter was the fact that the political leadership in Kashmir was due for a change -- Chief Minister Mufti Mohammand Sayeed was to be replaced as part of an original arrangement between his People's Democratic Party and the Congress, by a Congress chief minister.
In Delhi, Congress President Sonia Gandhi was to take a call on the change of leadership. She asked state Congress chief, Ghulam Nabi Azad, what she should do. Azad replied, after a pause, slowly: "If we're not unhappy with the present arrangement" he said "then there would seem to be no reason to change it," he said.
There were powerful lobbies on both sides. If the chief minister was to be from Jammu -- as Azad was -- the deputy chief minister had to be from the valley. So the change suited some elements in the PDP. It emphatically did not suit those in the Congress from the valley who believed that Kashmir could not have a CM from Jammu at any cost and, therefore, by allowing Azad to occupy the top post, the high command had found a way to circumvent their claims.
Many MLAs from the state Congress demonstrated and demanded the Congress assert its right and lay claim to the chief ministership. So, Azad went to Srinagar last year, but everything about him suggested he was a reluctant CM.
This was not the first time Azad had let his resistance to a transfer to Srinagar be made public. He was sent as Pradesh Congress Committee chief in 2001, his first official engagement with the state, but it was clear to everyone that this was a punishment posting.
Azad fell into a trap laid by his own colleagues in the party, and took charge more than three months after he was named to the job. 2002 saw the Assembly elections in Kashmir. No one expected the kind of performance the Congress came up with. The Congress wanted to claim victory but didn't have the numbers to form a government. And a government had to be formed fast. The opposition National Conference was catching any MLA on the street and offering him the chance to be chief minister with their support -- including Communist Party of India-Marxist, which had two MLAs in the assembly.
It was none other than present Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was sent by Sonia Gandhi to work out the terms of the partnership between the Congress and the PDP. Singh was the one who hit upon the shared chief ministership formula. So, if he's stuck with a non-performing chief minister in Kashmir, Singh has only himself to blame.
Anyway, Azad bought time for two-and-a-half years. Meanwhile, the Congress came to power at the centre and he was made Parliamentary Affairs Minister. This was an important job in a coalition government. He was even part of the top-most party forum, the Core Group. In fact, until A K Antony was inducted into the Core Group, Azad would faithfully fly into Delhi every Friday to attend the meeting -- until he was told politely that there was no need for him to exert himself.
Initially Azad took his job seriously. He would go the Secretariat at 7 am and stay there till midnight clearing files. Exactly what these files were no one knows because development is an unknown word in the state. But then in Kashmir no one talks about development. Politics is all about security.
Inevitably it was security that came in the way -- the peace process stalled. It became clear that Pakistan would not accept any peace process until the "core issue" was not addressed. Azad began to feel seriously circumscribed in the politics of militancy and security. In Kashmir there is only two kinds of politics -- there's anti-India politics which is what the separatists of many hues practise, and there's anti-Delhi politics that the NC has developed into a fine art. But there are no takers in Kashmir for a pro-India, pro-New Delhi platform, which was Azad's stance.
So, the government got no purchase on the slippery incline of Kashmir politics. Worse was to come. Under Mufti's chief ministership, the security forces had been told to stay away. But under Azad, civilian killings suddenly increased. Until mid-July, security forces have already fired twice in Kupwara and Bandipora -- once on the mere suspicion of a Lashkar militant hiding out in villages, and once when people gathered together to protest another killing. Mufti made the disbanding of the Special Operations Group his most important election plank. Although they were not disbanded ultimately, their activities showed a noticeable decrease in the earlier part of Congress-PDP rule. Now, they're back. The PM referred to the security forces' performance pointedly during his visit when he said there would be zero-tolerance for human rights violations.
Now, with the grenade blasts in Kashmir and the Mumbai blasts, the performance of Home Minister Shivraj Patil is under a scanner, of course; but so is Ghulam Nabi Azad's. If his administration is such that he is unable to convey to the people of Kashmir that he can protect them, what is the use of such a chief minister?
With India practically downing the shutter on further talks with Pakistan at this point, Azad's path is only going to get harder. Someone in Delhi simply doesn't want him to succeed in this job. Wonder who that is?