Kashmir is no longer the paradise on earth Emperor Jehangir had visualised, but a slice of sunshine has fallen on its besieged streets and terror-darkened vales. The infamous stone pelters on whom liberals bequeath the moral glow of intifada have vanished from Srinagar’s streets. The good news is that ever since Governor’s rule was imposed on J&K in June, misguided youths funded and inspired by the ISI have gone to the ground. The bad news is that the mood and moves of the Valley are still controlled by separatists, terrorists and freeloading state leaders.
Whenever the Central government makes a genuine attempt to involve local people in running state affairs, a cabal of anti-India elements plays spoilsport. The low voter turnout in the current local body polls indicates the electoral process is being sabotaged in the Valley. Held after a long gap, the elections would enable village and district-level leaders to take charge of civic administration.
However, J&K’s two main regional parties –the Farooq Abdullah-led National Conference (NC) and the Mehbooba Mufti-controlled People’s Democratic Party (PDP)— boycotted the ballot, questioning the Centre’s stand on Article 35-A, which bars all other than the original inhabitants of the state, “from owning immovable property, settling, getting jobs under the state government or availing state scholarships.” There are no permanent friends and enemies in Kashmir, only vested interests. Both parties are sworn enemies for the past 15 years, but their interests coincide on taking an opportunistic anti-Centre stance to seduce separatist sympathies. Thankfully their appeal is limited to the five districts of South Kashmir which are also the hunting grounds for terror. While over 70 per cent of J&K’s electorate voted, the turnout in South Kashmir did not touch double digits.
For three decades, regional parties and anti-India elements in J&K have been conspiring covertly and overtly against the true democratization of state politics. Bright young leaders are denied party posts and tickets, and prevented from playing a decisive role in shaping the contours of governance. The NC and PDP have alternatively colluded with a national party to assume power and keep local challengers away. But the current local elections have redefined state politics.
Both dynastic parties have thrown in their lot with the separatists, leaving the Congress and the BJP to capture the vacated space. For the first time, the families and friends of the Abdullahs and the Muftis would not be controlling any of the local bodies, which will instead be run by representatives of national parties. The BJP and the Congress now have an opportunity to paint both regional pashas as nefarious neutralizers of the peace process.
Kashmir is a laboratory for political experiments where personal chemistry has defined the physics of action and reaction between various power players. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried out a new formula by appointing a politician as the Governor. Satya Pal Malik, a former BJP vice president, is J&K’s first political governor since Karan Singh was moved out in 1967. Since then, either a former civil servant, police official or an army general was posted to handle recalcitrant state leaders and the security forces. So far, there is no record of Malik’s troubleshooting skills. His main qualification appears to be proximity to powerful national leaders; he was close to former prime minister V P Singh and Rajiv Gandhi’s friend and relative, Arun Nehru.
As expected, Malik made the right noises after taking over in Srinagar; announcing he had been sent to meet popular expectations and deal with regional imbalances. However, he started with a bang of a bloomer by predicting that a foreign-educated person would be the mayor of Srinagar. This remark put a question mark on the fairness of the local elections and smacked of Central intervention. However, the overall gubernatorial agenda is defined by the Prime Minister and his trusted aides. As Track-II globetrotters keep pushing for a dialogue with Pakistan, Malik has been mandated to revive the aspirational dreams of the Valley’s unemployed youth.
A permanent solution to the Kashmir issue lies in the creation of new leadership unburdened by past baggage. The captains of the NC and the PDP are not only driven by dynastic compulsions but are also weakened by their abysmal failure to bring Kashmir into the national mainstream. They are more concerned about the retention of Article 370 rather than the all-round development of the state.
Neither of them have ever promoted a growth model that ensured more jobs for the youth, encouraged local industry to flourish and developed world-class infrastructure to attract more international and domestic tourists. In the early 60s and 70s, the Valley was a dream destination for honeymooners, film-makers and summer holidaymakers from all over the country and abroad. Barring the undesirable dismissals of state governments by New Delhi, no Central government has ever intervened to protect the political and economic interests of local Kashmiris. It has been the Centre’s strategy to keep J&K afloat with disproportionately gargantuan grants.
Till a few decades ago, federal tax laws were not fully applicable in Kashmir. IT raids on local entrepreneurs would be met with public protests. According to an analysis by The Hindu newspaper, “Jammu and Kashmir has received 10 per cent of all Central grants given to states over the 2000-2016 period despite having only one per cent of the country’s population. In contrast, Uttar Pradesh makes up about 13 per cent of the country’s population but received only 8.2 per cent of Central grants in 2000-16.
That means J&K, with a population of 12.55 million according to the 2011 Census, received `91,300 per person over the last sixteen years while Uttar Pradesh only received `4,300 per person over the same period”. Every Indian prime minister since 1990 has announced special economic packages. But where has all the money gone? To the pockets of politicians, where else?
Since both financial and military solutions have failed in the past, an innovative, inviting and inclusive model is required to bring J&K back into the all-embracing national narrative. A violent section of Kashmiri youth have habitually aligned with Pakistan and become sacrificial pawns in a sinister game. But India’s failed neighbour is no longer an attraction for Kashmir’s GenNext, which is sadly also left out of the Indian growth story. Most of them have realized their future lies with Global New India instead of crumbling Pakistan. Modi can be assured of a plentiful political harvest if he succeeds in igniting aspirational dreams in the minds of Kashmiri youth.