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Why the Centre needs to help this CM

By Mohammad Sayeed Malik
May 12, 2016 19:45 IST
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Mehbooba Mufti

IMAGE: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.

Kashmir's youth are being radicalised.
The once-alienated separatists are ready to return to their old haunting ground.
The ruling PDP-BJP coalition finds itself on the defensive over almost every issue of governance.
Mohammad Sayeed Malik identifies the many challenges that Kashmir's first woman chief minister needs to overcome.

As Mehbooba Mufti gets into stride, negotiating the hazardous bends and curves of Kashmir politics, she seems to be making the right kind of noise -- underplaying rather than overplaying her hand.

After her formal installation on April 4 in Jammu, Mehbooba has been going about her arduous task in a business-like manner without being ostentatious. She maintains her familiar streak of reaching out to the alienated people in general and the polarised Kashmir youth in particular.

That she was a reluctant entrant into the power game, following her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's demise on January 7, no longer reflects from her sure-footed stride from the saddle. She seems to be cultivating a functional, moderate profile, in contrast to the vacuous flamboyance of her political counterparts in the Abdullah dynasty.

The moment calls for a closer look at the dynamics of the Kashmir scenario in order to assess Mehbooba's possible options, challenges and prospects of governance in the days to come.

Governance in J&K is substantially arduous, unlike elsewhere in India.

Also, Mehbooba happens to be the state's first woman chief minister. For the nascent political arrangement to succeed it is important that New Delhi's (so far alleged) magnanimity (vis-a-vis Mehbooba) is also seen to be believed, unlike in the case of her father.

It is a different question that Sayeed's own clout carried enough steam to keep their common boat afloat even in the face of the Centre's graceless indifference, if nothing worse.

Before exploring the contours of the current scenario in Kashmir it would be useful to recall some of its basic parameters having a bearing upon the course of contemporary events.

A look back illuminates an uncommon, deeply interactive relationship between the overall socio-political situation and its corresponding security dynamic in this perennially troubled border state.

It has been so since 1947 when India's military was professionally baptised in the state, following the tribal invasion from Pakistan. Because of that, the public space has come to be shared by the societal, political and security dynamics, in varying degrees.

The tone and tenor of the dominant sentiment on the ground usually reflects the sum total of linkages within this paradigm.

In best of times, socio-political stability has been its richest dividend and, conversely, in worse times, mismatch between the component-dynamics breeds volatility and across-the-board negative sentiment.

Today, 69 years after Independence, although the political and social landscape has changed beyond recognition, the logic of the basic corelation between society, politics and security continues to prevail.

Right now the most striking feature of political dynamics appears to be the palpable feeling of tentativeness on the ground. The fog of political uncertainty is ominously over the horizon with a perceptible disconnect between the political class and the masses.

It is so in spite of the fact that the existing political power arrangement at the top seems to be in no danger of crumbling, at least not in the near future. Yet, de-stablising bush fires at societal, ethnic and regional levels continue to cause concern.

Compulsion of the fractured electoral mandate in 2014 scripted an unlikely alliance between politically and ideologically incompatible entities in the 'larger interests of the state.' The first few months of the Peoples Democatic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance have been forgettable. Their coalition was seen struggling to remain afloat and it looks to be nowhere nearer to embarking upon its grand 'agenda of alliance.'

Perhaps the one positive feature is the ability of its leadership to somehow stem the drift and survive to halt their boat just short of hitting the proverbial iceberg perennially floating just below the surface.

Considering the odds, it is no mean achievement. It can safely be assumed that, as of now, the leadership at the top remains wedded to its commitment to make their contraption survive and, hopefully, also deliver.

Even so, high stakes are involved in the ultimate fate of the existing arrangement. It has the potential to at least blunt the vicious cutting edge of regional and ethnic tension which has been a major contributory factor in keeping the Kashmir pot boiling, apart, of course, from aggravation of its tedious external dimension.

The current scenario looks to be anything but encouraging; more so for those whose business it is to deal with and contain its toxic fallout.

Blinking lights on the dashboard project a discomforting scenario.

For one, while the overall security situation is showing steady improvement over the past few years and the intensity and level of violence have substantially come down, thanks mainly to the men in uniform, its corresponding political, administrative and social dividends are nowhere in sight.

Secondly, radicalisation of youth and sectarian and regional polarisation over mundane issues expose the vulnerability of the entire mainstream class.

Thirdly, the separatist camp which was made to lick its wounds inflicted by resounding rejection of its poll boycott now finds it tantalising to return to its old hunting ground.

This aspect of the scenario virtually puts a question mark over the capability of not only the ruling coalition partners, but the entire mainstream political spectrum to deliver where it matters most.

None of them has addressed or shown concern about alienation and radicalisation of youth which is fast reaching the danger mark, if it has not already touched that point.

Motivational gains achieved with universally acclaimed legitimisation of electoral and democratic processes, especially since 2002, have been allowed to go down the drain. The potential benefits of massive participation in successive elections to the state assembly, national Parliament and panchayats are yet to be realised.

At the end of it all, the course of events on the ground is going to be determined by the quality of governance provided by the disparate ruling coalition. So far there has been really nothing to write home about.

The coalition finds itself thrown on the defensive over almost every issue of governance from flood relief to jobs, from power supply to health facilities and from the non-existent Sainik colony to the National Institute of Technology fracas and medical college admissions.

And this is a disquieting dynamic of the political scenario in this instability prone border state.

Coming to the external dynamic, hardening of position across the Line of Control, by Pakistan, over the bilateral relationship with India in general and over the Kashmir issue in particular has been a major aggravating factor.

Looking from Srinagar, New Delhi does not seem to be soundly advised on this particular issue.

Historically, the clogging of channels of bilateral communication between the two countries has acted as a negative political dynamic on the ground in Kashmir where it has a destabilising manifestation.

The origin of the related security dynamic of this paradigm lies in the tumultuous events of 1947-1948. The picture then was just the opposite of what it is today: Fauj (army) and awaam (government) used to be on the same page and, significantly, on the same wavelength.

Myopic politicking from time to time played havoc with that ideal balance. And today, there is total estrangement between fauj and awaam.

As a result a host of humanitarian issues have cropped up. Absence of the rule of law, curbs on civil liberties, violation of human rights and denial of justice to the victims of official high-handedness are combustible issues.

One of its ominous political manifestations is the surcharged confrontation over the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Acts issue. The recent bloody incidents in Handwara are a case in point.

Public discourse in Kashmir is dominated by issues arising out of over securitisation of the apparatus of governance. De-escalation in the level of violence over the past few years is yet to reflect itself on the ground with gradual dismantling of the extra-Constitutional draconian regime.

So long as these emotional issues remain unresolved, stability on the ground would be near impossible to achieve, irrespective of achievements in other spheres of governance.

More importantly, it also hinders the all-important process of emotional integration.

Mohammad Sayeed Malik is the elder statesman of commentators on Kashmir affairs.

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Mohammad Sayeed Malik