Dwarika Prasad Sharma
So, the jury is out. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said in recent interviews to two media outlets that the BJP pulled out of the coalition Government in Jammu and Kashmir because, after the death of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, hurdles were being raised to efforts to strengthen the roots of democracy down to the village level.
He said that the Centre strongly believed that the long-delayed elections to the panchayats had got to be held in order to empower the villages to decide on their priorities for development.
Repeated goading by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and in turn by governor Narendra Nath Vohra forced the then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti to essay moves for local self-Government elections. These soon plateaued when mainstream parties like the NC, Congress and PDP itself, at a meeting in Srinagar, concluded that the situation in the Valley was not calm enough for any elections. They cited the example of the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat which had been vacated by Mehbooba Mufti in 2016 to assume chief ministership of the State. The dates for the election kept on rolling, so much so that the people have now almost forgotten that it is due. The seat encompasses districts which have become hotbeds of terrorism.
The Kashmiri leaders have often advanced the argument that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act should be withdrawn in phases, starting off with towns and villages where an acceptable level of calm has been established. If so, why can’t local self-Government elections be successfully held in these swathes of relative calm? And why should Kashmiri leaders weigh down Jammu and Ladakh with their own hang-ups?
Modi said in the interviews that he wanted equitable development of all three regions of the State, and urban body and panchayat elections were a vehicle to take it down to the last mile.
NC president Farooq Abdullah, who ran away in 1990 (without any fight) and ran back, full of trepidation, to rule again another day (1996-2002), was back as chief minister after an election which was far from ideal in Kashmir, the core constituency of his party. In several swathes of the Valley, the Ikhwanis made elections possible. (It is another matter that, ensconced in the seat of power, he later went after them hammer and tongs). It is universally held in democratic countries that even a flawed election is better than no election.
The byelection to the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat in April last year, in which Farooq was returned with a hair’s breadth margin, saw an abysmally low turn-out amid violent protests and attacks on polling booths. In this election, he did not chicken out, and none can call him an illegitimate Member of Parliament. In Kashmir now, you cannot wait for an ideal situation to take an electoral plunge.
Before being reinstalled in 1996, Farooq had been feeling floored by the speculation, which was thick in the air, that Shabir Shah was the rising star in the eyes of then Union home minister S.B.Chavan, who looked inclined to propel the suave and quite amenable rebel to a Government leadership role. Chavan’s thinking and approach were hugely innovative and their success would have changed the landscape of conflict in the Valley. Shabir had emerged as a popular rebel leader who had come to be hailed in the Valley as “Shabir Shah, Baadshah”. His projection was part of the behind-the-scenes talks with the separatists to persuade them to step forward and form a Government.
But maverick Shabir and his cohorts chickened out. Chavan’s programme obviously envisioned holding of elections, which would have translated to holding power with responsibility. Crikey!!!
Around that time, at a news conference in Jammu, Farooq oozed desperation when he plaintively said: “You (the Centre) are holding talks with the rebels; hold talks with us. If we remain, then there will be somebody there to say ‘Hindustan zindabad’.” He finally had his way and his day.
The same Farooq now keeps on calling for talks with the rebels and with their puppet string holder Pakistan. Wait a minute! Imran Khan will be a puppet, too. So “meaningful talks” (using the cliché of the separatists) will be problematic. Try and try again, as the mainliners insist, and shut your eyes to the border ceasefire violations and pushing across of armed terrorists by that country.
BJP strongman Ram Madhav, after a visit to the Valley, has made some observations which take the paradigm shift in the party’s thinking, which was set off with its opposite poles coalition Government with the PDP, a step further when he made the confident assertion that his party would be part of any Government that should now be formed in the State. He articulated his preference for six months of governor’s rule and another six months of President’s rule as a cooling off and course correction period.
It will be a task for Ram Madhav to rub off some of his strongman persona onto the State party leaders who are yet far away from getting naturalised into ruling ways. As players in the opposition, they had become a one-trick horse that staged walkouts in the legislature ad nauseam to attract the attention of the proliferating and pliable electronic media ever spoilt for any bit and byte.
In the ministry, however, they seemed to have forgotten their opposition stunts, and came to be widely viewed in Jammu, their sole constituency, as playing the role of a docile second. Coalition dharma, no doubt, but they were judged to be prostrating when asked to bend. Large numbers in Jammu are disenchanted with the party and, to recover some of the lost ground, it will have to latch onto some hot issue, like the Amarnath land row, which the Kashmiri leaders themselves will offer up. And already they are doing it with a vengeance!
Since being reduced to a half-term ex-chief minister, Ms. Mufti has been back at her green-hanky tricks. She and the other mainstreamers have made Article 35 A a tub-thumping issue, as a potential vote magnet. What prevents a citizen from approaching the Supreme Court to challenge a provision like this Article? The Government under Ms Mufti was the major party defending it. Despite her losing the chief ministership, the State Government, in continuum, is still there with its position.
The plea of the State Government for an adjournment of the next hearing, set by the apex court for the week starting August 27, in view of the local bodies election process, has been seconded by the Centre. The NC and the CPM have moved the court for intervention to defend the Article. Yet the mainstreamers have been raising a raucous chorus over it, conjuring up an opportunistic, contrived spectre that devils were out to “tinker with it”. They have become judge, jury and Quixotic executioners listing at the State’s Accession with “India”.
Their paranoid observations are illustrated by this little anecdote. Two neighbours have babies in their respective families the same day, a male in one and a female in the other. The patriarch of the family blessed with the baby girl barges into the other house and thunders that he would murder the boy if he should attempt to rape the girl when he came of age!
The mainstreamers have been ably (ha, ha) joined by the Joint Resistance Leadership (tremble and bow!). Having been caught out with their shilwars down for rising in support of a provision of the “Indian” Constitution, they have changed tack and hyperlinked it with “the UN resolutions giving the Kashmiris the right of self-determination”! Probably tweet-tweet Omar Abdullah shamed them into pulling up their shilwars when he tweeted (what else?) that defending Article 35 A was an extension of defending the “Indian” Constitution.
The Kashmiri leaders are unreasonably working the issue up to a pitch the fallout of which can only be regional polarisation. It is akin to the “Islam in danger” cry of jehadis, in spite of the protestations of these leaders that they are “secular”. They will, however, have to answer the question how many shades of grey the label has, and whether it is a constant or is situational.
(The writer is a Senior Journalist)