In Retrospect: 2015 Proved Kashmir Needs Hercules Not Dream Peddlers18 December 2015
Srinagar: The proof of pudding lies in its eating, but the problem with the PDP-BJP ruling coalition in Jammu and Kashmir is that its pudding is not ready to be tasted despite being cooked for 10 months. The ideologically apart parties took three months to work out the terms of their alliance after the state assembly elections threw up a fractured mandate in December 2014. The Valley-centric PDP got 28 seats and the Jammu-centric BJP got 25 seats, including those of its allies in the 87-member assembly. The regional National Conference (NC) dropped to 15 seats from its 2008 election tally of 28 in the 87-member state assembly. The wily old PDP patron, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed remained double-minded about whether or not he should cast his lot with a right-wing political party. Rising above regional considerations, Sayeed said since the electoral mandate had been overwhelmingly in favour of the BJP in the Jammu region, the only way to move forward and preserve the unity in diversity of the state was to shake hands with the BJP. It was a bitter bill Sayeed had to swallow to come to power and the BJP happily obliged by conceding him the chief minister's chair for the full six-year term of the assembly (Against five years in Indian states, the J&K assembly has a six-year tenure). Equitable development for the state's three regions - Kashmir, Jammu, Ladakh - employment for the youth, uninterrupted electric power supply, relief and rehabilitation of flood victims of last year and political space for different viewpoints are the hallmarks of what Sayeed calls the 'battle of ideas'. As for the pro-freedom leadership, they have raised the ante against Sayeed for aligning with 'anti-Muslim BJP' since he came to power on March 1, but despite their best efforts, have not been able to move beyond shutdown calls to galvanize people in their support. For the failure of any of their mass campaign to take ground in 2015, the pro-freedom leaders have blamed the government for keeping them under continuous house arrest and detention. Bruised and battered by its electoral defeat, the NC was licking its wounds till the people starting talking against the PDP in the Kashmir and the BJP in the Jammu region. Sayeed's political adversary, former chief minister Omar Abdullah, has started rebuilding his image by highlighting the 'failures and disenchantment of the people with the PDP-BJP coalition'. The PDP-BJP alliance depended heavily on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government at the centre for financial support for almost everything from roads, flood relief, employment, infrastructure, power projects and even salaries to its employees. Modi announced a financial package of Rs.80,000 crores ($12 billion) when he visited the state on October 6 this year. The benefits of this economic package will take time to become visible on the ground, but the impatience of the people with the PDP-BJP government is fast running out. There have been daily protests in Srinagar city and other places in the Valley against electric power shortages, bad roads, inadequate rations, unemployment and human rights violations. The other big problem for the state this year has been that J&K second biggest industry after horticulture, tourism, has not done well in 2015. The fear of another flood due to incessant untimely rains kept the tourist inflow to the Valley at a low ebb this year. The promise made by the PDP-BJP government to get back the ownership of hydro-based electric power from the NHPC made little headway in 2015. 'The state government's coffers were completely emptied by the previous government because they knew they were on their way out. Whatever damage has been done by the NC during decades cannot be undone by us in just 10 months,' a senior minister and close confidante of the chief minister said, speaking on condition of anonymity. 'We don't have a magic wand and expecting that we came to power with a magic wand or Alladin's Lamp is being unfair to us. 'We still have full five years to deliver and a call on our performance cannot be taken just because we are unable to set right the wrongs in just 10 months those were done in decades by the NC headed governments in the past,' the minister added. He said the PDP's opponents have even been spreading rumours about Sayeed's health. 'That is being callous and mischievous. The chief minister is working overtime and nobody in a failing state of health can do that,' the minister said. News reports that Sayeed would be handing over the reins of power to his daughter and PDP president, Mehbooba Mufti, continue to make rounds although she recently said she was not interested in becoming the chief minister. The lives of ordinary citizens and the business community started gradually returning to normal this year after the unprecedented floods of 2014. So, will Sayeed be able to clear the Aegean Stables and rise to people's expectations? This will largely depend on whether Sayeed has the wisdom and energy of Hercules or chooses to soft paddle as a peddler of dreams in the sunset of his political career.