A bruised and hurt Kashmir awaits that magic balm

They were of course referring to the decision to send a team of political leaders from all parties to Jammu and Kashmir.

But the outcome did not surprise many others. For, you cannot expect participants in a one-day meeting to wield a magic wand and find answers to contentious issues. Remember, the UPA government finally decided to hold the all-party discussion after several meetings of the full Cabinet and the Cabinet Committee on Security failed to provide a solution or a consensus approach to the crisis that the state is faced with.

Still, if someone points fingers at the Centre for the current situation in India’s most troubled state, that would not be wrong either. The first death, which triggered a series of protests, took place more than three months ago — on June 11. Since then, the Valley has seen over 90 deaths, most of them of youngsters, even as the violence spread to large parts of Kashmir and even to Jammu.

Thus, a Centre that has not addressed the growing unrest in the Valley and a state government that seems to have lost the trust of the people have only compounded and complicated the issues. Even the effort to send an all-party team to J&K may end up only as a time-buying exercise before the Manmohan Singh government comes out with a solution/package for the state, which may or may not help douse the fire. One example from the past: the last all-party delegation to J&K in 1990, led by former deputy prime minister Devi Lal and which included Rajiv Gandhi, achieved next to nothing.

The 1990 visit and many half-hearted efforts of the Centre have led to lack of faith among Kashmiris in the Union government since the Muslim-majority Kashmir acceded to India. Just sample them: the accession led to the historic 1952 agreement between Sheikh Abdullah (grand father of present chief minister Omar Abdullah) and prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru which set off the unique relationship of J&K with the Indian Union.

After the 1990 all-party delegation, then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao famously remarked “the sky is the limit” for J&K, but what followed was inaction. In 2000, the state autonomy committee submitted a report and a subsequent state Assembly resolution on autonomy was rejected by the A B Vajpayee government. This was followed by the report of Justice Saghir Ahmed’s working group on autonomy and a self-rule document prepared by the People’s Democratic Party in 2008. The Centre cold-shouldered all these.

Bane or boon

While J&K, through Article 370, enjoys devolved powers in administration and legislation, barring defence and external affairs, this itself seems to have become a bane for the state. If the Centre executes pro-people programmes such as a rural job guarantee scheme, right to education, food security, etc, the people of the state do not get the benefits immediately, for these programmes are not directly implemented. For their implementation, the state government has to be active (examples: RTE is yet to be implemented in the state; although all states have their state information commissions, J&K is yet to establish one).

This requires a dynamic, hardworking state government and a chief minister who has his ear to the ground — ironically, that’s what the young, articulate, forward-looking Omar Abdullah promised when he took over the helm of affairs in late 2008 after the state saw an unprecedented 68 per cent voter turnout. The Congress, already impressed by the youthful Abdullah, said to have been picked by Rahul Gandhi, teamed up with the National Conference.

The aspirations of the people were high. But, both the state and Central governments went into deep slumber, only to be rudely awakened by a series of agitations that have resulted in deaths and more deaths. Abdullah, who impressed many in that passionate speech on the no-confidence motion in July 2008 in parliament, is today seen as a loner, away from his people and who spends his weekends in Delhi.

There is the issue of Armed Forces Special Powers Act, over which several parties have strong divergent views. The chief minister wants it to be partially withdrawn, but is frustrated as the Centre is dithering; the opposition PDP holds nearly the same view; the Congress is divided. The Left wants AFSPA to be lifted partially like it was done in Manipur. Many advocate — rightly so — that  caution is needed: Pakistan is closely watching the situation, the Taliban is not very far away and China, of late, has come close to the LoC.

It is time not only to apply the balm but also to take some action. There are nearly a million educated unemployed youth in J&K who need jobs. There is a need for an economic package to address the state’s other problems such as infrastructure and industry. There is need to put the state’s own people in high places — the recent proposal of the supreme court collegium to appoint Justice Nisar Ahmad Kakru as chief justice of J&K high court can be a good beginning.

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