3 November 2005
The Indian Express
New Delhi: Ghulam Nabi Azad's chiefministership has been the occasion for many exclamations. He is the first Congress chief minister in J&K in three decades. He is the first chief minister to represent the Jammu region. But there is a danger in pausing too complacently on the symbolism as Azad takes over the reins of government in Kashmir. Be it his membership of the Congress party or his identity as a native of Jammu, J&K's new chief minister would do well to recognise that these are not badges for him to flaunt. In fact, they cast the onus of action on him.The Congress's scarred record of politics in the state is still a live sore in the state. Azad must utilise the opportunity to recast the terms of the relationship between Srinagar and New Delhi - with the Congress now occupying both seats of power - but he must do so in ways which do not revive memories of puppets in Srinagar and masterminds in New Delhi. While Azad can and must utilise his access to the Centre to Kashmir's advantage, it is important that the locus of policymaking and governance lies in Srinagar and is also seen to lie there. As for the brouhaha about Jammu finally getting a chief minister of its own, it may play well to the Congress's interests in the short term, given that most of the party's 20 seats in the 2002 elections came from the Jammu region. But in the longer term, it is Kashmiriyat that must be the primary exhortation in Kashmir. Any rhetoric that underlines the state's divisions - ethnic, religious or regional - can only set back the slow but steady return of popular trust in the political process across the state. Advertisement If he understands this, Azad, a Kashmiri-speaking Muslim from Jammu, may actually find himself in a unique position to heal some of the ugly rifts in the state. Kashmiriyat needs to be hardwired by concrete policies and institutional change. There must be visible movement towards the devolution of powers to the provinces that the Congress promised to voters in the assembly election. All regions, all sections in the state will benefit from a federal and decentralised system in Kashmir. Ultimately, Azad will be judged by the extent to which he is able to change the subject in Kashmir. From symbols and gestures to the humdrum detail of governance.