Difficult road ahead for JK CM

Gautam Sen
The Mehbooba Mufti Sayeed led J & K People‘s Democratic Party (PDP) – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition Government which assumed office on the 4th of this month, has a cobbled path ahead, both politically and administratively. Economically also, the Government will face challenges, as the State is not in a very robust position. In fact, during the short span of 87 days of Governor‘s Rule, Governor N.N.Vohra had done much to tone up the State administration on various fronts – at the Centre‘s behest or otherwise – towards ensuring substantial disbursement of pending flood relief (devolved by the Centre pertaining to the 2014 floods), preparation for the next Panchayat polls, specifying norms of certain appointments, etc., thereby  indicating  that the earlier elected Government of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed could have performed better but had not done so. As per reports of the State Accountant General, Jammu & Kashmir Governments still remains dependent on the Centre for more 70 % of its total revenue receipts, indicating de-facto weak resource base of the State and also inadequate revenue generating capacity. In such a backdrop, continuing political unrest, separatists‘ induced turmoil in civic life in the Kashmir Valley and also mishandled situations involving hostility between local students and those from outside the State, as being witnessed in the National Institute of Technology, Srinagar, will only keep the present Government in an ad-hoc fire-fighting mode and with less scope for governing with a vision for the future.
The present Government has nearly four-and-a-half years of tenure left before the next elections are due in  2020. The moot point is whether, the long-term political strategies of both PDP and BJP have been worked out, and their objectives and visions harmonise or can even be complementary to an extent, for governance with a broad vision for the State. Both the parties have admitted that, the present political compulsions have made them coalesce for Government forming. They have rationalized their action by alluding to the clear mandate obtained by them in the last State elections, with the PDP in the Kashmir Valley and the BJP in the Jammu region. But, beyond that, nothing is clear. What both the parties have not articulated but is evident, is that, they will use their participation and hold on the State Government   to expand their political constituencies and support   base.
It is however doubtful if the political ambitions of these two parties will be achieved in the immediate future of say, one or two years. On the other hand, erosion of their support may be expected considering that, the outcomes in terms of an improved distributive economic growth, employment for the youth without political patronage, etc. are unlikely in the present atmosphere of competitive opportunism, continued weak governance and delivery systems. To counter such developments on the political front, both the parties are expected to adopt strident postures and irreconcilable positions on issues like more decentralization of powers to lower units of administration and devolution of finances, particularly to those in Jammu Division and even to Ladakh and Kargil Autonomous Development Council areas. Issues like doing away with a separate State flag and extension of period of the Amarnath Yatra (demands associated with hard core Hindu elements and the BJP), and accommodating the youth motivated by the Hurriyat and the separatists in mainstream activities (propagated by PDP), will be bandied about in the public discourse not towards working out a genuine consensus but instead, to create more contention for political mileage.
The future of the State seems bleak. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, father of the present Chief Minister, had an administrative acumen of a higher order than that of many other Kashmiri political leaders. But his own administration did not allow him to perform more optimally, because of political compromises which had to be accepted as part of the erstwhile PDP-BJP coalition politics and also as a result of its intra-party politics. The inability of his Government to empower the panchayats and local bodies, is a case in point. An institution of self-governance for empowering people at the grassroots did not take-off, and consequently the undermining of negative influences of political power brokers, could not be achieved. The Omar Abdullah Government failed initially in this respect after the last Panchayat elections of 2011, by not going beyond token delegation of responsibilities of 14 departments to the Panchayats – particularly to the ‘deh majilis‘ (equivalent of gram sabhas) and the Mufti Mohammad Government compounded this failure by not undertaking the necessary course correction. The BJP was also not too keen on this decentralization owing to their inherent fear of non-Hindu majority panchayats in the hill districts of Jammu Division like Rajouri, Poonch, Doda, etc. The net result was status-quoist stratified governance with interests of the beneficiaries relegated to the background. The Governor had incidentally expressed apprehension recently while reviewing preparatory action for the next Panchayat Polls, on the State‘s ability to obtain the full package of Rs. 4769.37 crore  14th Finance Commission grant for local bodies, if the next Panchayat  and Municipal bodies‘ elections due this year, are not held properly.
Despite her considerable political experience of PDP party management, and also  role as an alter-ego of her father prior to and during the last tenure of Mufti Mohammad as Chief Minister, Mehbooba will take time to come on her own as the foremost  leader-cum-administrator of Jammu & Kashmir. The dispensation at the Centre, may not be willing to give her a free hand owing to compulsions of State BJP‘s for expansion and political consolidation in Jammu Division of the State. The impact of an unnatural political alliance between PDP and BJP, also cannot be wished away. In this backdrop, no unified vision on governance of the State can be expected from the Mehbooba Mufti Government. However, with  Mehbooba  Mufti as Chief Minister, Government of India may have the best option for reaching out to the alienated populace of Jammu & Kashmir. The Centre therefore, from the perspective of overriding national interest, has a responsibility to help her evolve a vision of governance and concomitantly achieve a threshold of socio-economic growth for the welfare of the people of the State, within a reasonable span of time.  This is because, there are no natural allies for the BJP in the State, unlike the Congress which can work out a modus vivendi with both PDP and Omar Abdullah‘s National Conference owing to some commonalities in their postures and policies on decentralized governance and autonomy of Jammu & Kashmir. Without some modicum of unity of vision between Mehbooba Mufti and the Centre, civic unrest, corruption, economic backwardness and disparity within the State, will continue to fester.
(The author  has been Adviser (14th Finance Commission) of Govt. of Nagaland and he  has served in Jammu & Kashmir                during (2008-10).


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