Amit Shah's Focus on Development, Panchayats and Kashmiriyat
Much has been already written and speculated regarding India’s new Home Minister Amit Shah’s likely policy towards Kashmir. The Minister himself has not clearly articulated a comprehensive Kashmir policy yet and perhaps never will.
However, he has stated in the Lok Sabha after returning from a 2-day visit to the Kashmir Valley that the BJP will stress on ‘Jamhooriyat, Insaniyat, Kashmiriyat’ in J&K but will not tolerate terrorism.
Already, a few salient points of his likely approach are clearly visible with one being a crackdown on the corrupt and privileged who are denying the common Kashmiri the fruits of economic development.
It is well known in J&K political circles that a powerful coterie of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen with extensive connections in New Delhi have tended to siphon off Government of India funds meant for economic development and providing basic services to the people of the state.
Thus, despite thousands of crores of the Indian taxpayers’ money being poured into J&K the effect on infrastructure and public facilities has been minimal. Development projects sanctioned and funded lie incomplete for years while the funds are used up in connivance with officials and politicians. Bridges, flyovers, roads, schools and medical establishment remain incomplete or in a shabby state.
The habitually corrupt and the well-known sharks based in the Valley are likely to face a tough time as the Union Home Minister has ordered the agencies to go after the “big fish” who have always managed to evade the net of accountability. Shah has instructed agencies such as the NIA, Enforcement Directorate to identify, investigate and prosecute corrupt officials, politicians and their associates. He has asked the agencies not to spare the high and mighty and take action regardless of the status of the offenders.
There has also been a tendency by mainstream political parties to stop and divert the flow of funds at Srinagar itself. This is one reason why they have steadfastly refused to strengthen grassroots level democratic institutions like the panchayats and municipalities. Whatever the fault of the BJP, that party has been instrumental in forcing the last state government headed by the PDP to hold panchayat and urban local bodies elections.
It seems that these institutions have been specially targeted by Union Home Minister Amit Shah. It is not a coincident that he held meetings with panchayat elected officials (sarpanches) during his brief 2-day visit to the Valley.
More funds will flow directly to the grassroots organisation bypassing Srinagar both to prevent theft or diversion and empower the panchayats and urban local bodies. This would not only lead to more equitable development but also help the thousands of Kashmiris lacking basic amenities and public services.
Shah said in Parliament: “It is only within a year that elections to the Panchayats have been conducted. Not just that, a sum of Rs.3700 crore is going to be transferred into the accounts of Gram Panchayats of Jammu and Kashmir.”
The grassroots organisations are also being viewed by the BJP government as the bedrock of democracy that requires to be strengthened. Amit Shah has also rightly observed that it has been the mainstream political parties in Kashmir who have thwarted the democratic process. He assured members of the Lok Sabha that assembly elections in J&K would be held whenever the Election Commission of India decided to do so.
The state should also be prepared to see a government in which the BJP is the single largest party. Although it might seem inconceivable that the BJP with its support base restricted to the Jammu and Ladakh regions could dominate any future state government, the possibility is not without foundation.
Some political writers have conjectured that the BJP could emerge as the single largest party in the state legislature if it could win 28 out of 37 seats in the Jammu region and two each in Ladakh and the Valley. The 46 seats in the Valley instead of going to a single party could well get split up among the National Conference, the PDP, the People’s Conference and the new People's United Front of Shah Faesal and Engineer Rashid. In such an event, then the BJP could emerge as the single largest party and form a government with the support of a Kashmir Valley based party.
If this happens, there will be more pressure on the mainstream political parties and a likely dilution of the state’s special status if not the abrogation of articles 35A and 370 of the Constitution. How it will affect the course of Kashmir Valley politics might not be clear but it would certainly end the domination of the Kashmiri ruling coteries, dynasties and their cronies in cornering most of the state’s resources meant for the amelioration of the masses.
The last but not the least, pillar of Amit Shah’s policy appears to be the strengthening of the idea of Kashmiriyat. “As far as Kashmiriyat is concerned, Kashmiriyat does not mean shedding blood, nor does it mean opposition of India but Kashmiriyat means integrating with India. We are committed to protect the distinct culture of Kashmir”, he said in his 28 June Parliament speech.
What are we to make of it? Hopefully, it will mean a total outreach to the people of J&K especially the alienated youngsters of the Kashmir Valley who are presently being compelled to take the path of armed struggle. Engaging with the young and the alienated if done effectively, sincerely and strenuously would benefit not just the people of the Kashmir Valley but also the millions of Indians who are dismayed by the unending bloodshed in that state.
1 July 2019