The failure of politics & emergence of street power

The failure of politics & emergence of street power


A policeman mourns as he carries the coffin of a fellow policeman killed by suspected rebels in an attack inside the police headquarters in Srinagar on Saturday. AP Photo

With Omar Abdullah as chief minister, many imagined that the generational change in the politics of the state will usher in an era of development, decency and dynamism, which in turn will lead to more responsive and responsible governance. Alas, all these hopes appear to be getting smashed at the altar of political and administrative inexperience of the treasury benches on one side, and the cynical, self-serving and duplicitous attitude of the opposition on the other side.

Although terrorism has been receding in the state, and separatist politicians are increasingly on the back foot, political unrest shows no sign of abating. In the past, every time the separatists wanted to make a point they would call for a hartal (something that earned the Hurriyat conference the sobriquet of Hartal conference) and shut down the Valley. Today things are different. Instead of deadly silence on the streets, pitched battles between agitators and law enforcement agencies have become the order of the day.

The impassioned street protests have introduced a new dimension to politics. Over the last few months, any and every issue becomes a cause celebre, and is quickly blown completely out of proportion and then an agitation built around that cause.

Even incidents that would normally fall in the category of criminal behaviour on the part of some individuals result in partly orchestrated and partly spontaneous outburst of outrage that spills onto the streets for weeks on end – the Shopian rape and murder case is a prime example of this trend.

Such is the power of the street that even the separatists find it easier to jump on to the bandwagon of street protests than to garner support for their lost cause. And while the slogan of ‘Aazadi’ remains a rallying cry of the protestors, it is increasingly becoming a metaphor of protest on issues of governance rather than an expression of the right to self-determination.

The failure of state administration to respond effectively to this new situation is glaring. Not only has Chief Minister Omar Abdullah been unable to get a political and administrative handle over the protests, he has also not been successful in restoring the faith and confidence of the people in the organs of state, much less in making the delivery mechanism of the government work  to address the day-to-day problems of the people.

Soft separatism

While hardly anyone doubts Omar’s intentions, the problem lies in his failure to implement the policies and promises that will ensure good governance. It can be argued that he is still new in the job and needs more time. But ever since he formed the government, there is nothing on the ground to suggest that the building blocks of reform are being put in place. The nice boy image and the public school morality works only up to a point, but these attributes cannot be a substitute for political and administrative skills which appear conspicuous by their absence.

Cynically exploiting this weakness of Omar is Mehbooba Mufti, who by her actions seems to believe that rabble-rousing is good politics. No doubt, these antics have resulted in the political growth of the PDP at the expense of both the Congress and NC, but in the process she could end up burning her bridges with mainstream public opinion.

Mehbooba’s incendiary speeches which smack of soft separatism could easily push the politics of the state once again into a tumult that politicians will find difficult to tackle. This is so because even as Mehbooba steals the ground from under the feet of the overtly separatist groups, she is giving wind to the separatist sentiment that remains alive in the Valley and which could erupt in a new and more virulent form if it continues to be fanned.

Clearly, Omar Abdullah and the Congress party have their task cut out for them. If they get their act together and deliver good, clean and transparent governance, provide economic opportunities and improve the quality of social goods – all issues that brought voters out in droves – they will effectively out manoeuvre their opponents. If they fail, Kashmir could once again descend into chaos.

(The writer is a Consultant with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi)

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