September 2018 News

The New Jammu And Kashmir Governor Has His Task Cut Out

1 September 2018
The Hindustan Times
Chanakya

New Delhi: Kashmir has a way of surprising people; just when you think things can't get any worse, they do. As Chanakya writes this column, the state has just come off a nerve-wracking 48 hours. First, security forces - the term used to describe the amalgam of the state police, the army, and the Central Reserve Police Force - detained for questioning (according to them) or arrested (according to the militants), the families of three militants. Retribution was swift. Militants abducted 11 family members of policemen (some reports put this number at 14; rumours put it even higher). And all this happened even as a new Governor, a politician, was getting a feel for the state which is under Governor's Rule and the Supreme Court was scheduled (on Friday) to hear controversial appeals to the contentious Article 35A of the Constitution that restricts property ownership and other benefits to permanent residents of the state. As if that weren't enough, there's a new government across the border and, purportedly, a new plan, although it's still the same old army. All of this is happening against the backdrop of a rise in the death of militants, civilians, and members of the security forces; an increase in the number and profile of local Kashmiris now joining the militants; a shift in the locus of terror activities to south Kashmir; and a yawning gap in local political leadership. The Indian National Congress is a pale shadow of the power it once was in the state; the National Conference hasn't regained the trust of the people of the state after its dalliance with the BJP (1999-2002) and, more recently, the Congress; the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is a power in the Jammu region, and that alone; and the Peoples Democratic Party is struggling to recover credibility (with its support base) and on the ground after its ill-fated alliance with the BJP. Even the Hurriyat doesn't seem to enjoy the clout it once did with Kashmiris. All of this makes the job of Governor Satya Pal Malik, the first politician to be appointed to the post (and for a reason), all the more interesting. Chanakya sees four challenges before him. The first is to address the immediate issue concerning the safety of policemen and their families. Unlike army and CRPF men, who stay in fortified camps, policemen go back home every evening. These men are the eyes and ears of the security establishment on the ground and provide first-level intelligence, the value of which can't be overstated. While it's entirely possible that efforts by the militants to target them and their families could backfire - the way it did in Punjab during the peak of the Khalistan movement - there is also the possibility that it may result in resignations and a fall in morale. Indeed, even as the hostage crisis was winding down on Friday evening, it was becoming clear that at least some policemen were actually seeing and evaluating a clear trade-off between the safety of their families and their continued service in the force. A crisis may have been averted this time, with the militants releasing all the abducted family members of policemen on Friday, but most policemen are rattled by the development. The second is to ensure the peaceful conclusion of the local body elections in the state. This will fill some part of the governance gap in the state; local bodies now have substantial funds at their disposal (because of the way the devolution of funds takes place) and the sooner this happens - the dates for the polls are October 1-5 - the better. The third is for Malik to demonstrate to the people of the state the benefits of the development and welfare schemes launched by the National Democratic Alliance government. It's been a long-standing grievance, especially among BJP lawmakers in the state, that the state government has stood in the way of effective implementation of these programmes, which would have removed some of the disaffection of the local population. The fourth, the trickiest of them all, is his response to 35A and Article 370 of the Constitution (the latter gives an autonomous and unique status to the state). The scrapping of both is part of the articulated ideologies of both the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The repealing of Article 370 was actually part of the BJP's manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Given that the call for such a repeal will appeal to its die-hard supporters across India, it is unlikely that the party will drop this demand. The legal challenge to 35A is part of this effort, although neither the BJP nor the RSS is directly involved in the case. With an eye on the local body elections, and citing, in an interview to Hindustan Times, the fact that there is no government in the state to represent the views of the people before the Supreme Court, the Governor has won a reprieve with the court deferring the hearing till January. At some point, though, he will have to find a balance between the BJP's political position and the demand of the Kashmiris that the court dismiss the case. The nature and nuance of that balance (influenced, like everything else will be over the next several months, by the 2019 elections) will decide the weather in Jammu and Kashmir.

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