Centre cannot afford a drift in J&K leading to another dangerous turn
The inevitable faultlines in the unimaginable PDP- BJP coalition government in the sensitive border state of Jammu and Kashmir has brought to the fore that it is not a truly representative government which can deliver.
Further, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's curt message to the angry youth of Kashmir prodded by separatists and terrorists is to decide whether they want development (read tourism) or terrorism. This has added a new dimension to the disturbances in the only Muslim majority state in the country.
The mood has inevitably changed in the Valley because of an unworkable coalition believing in different ideologies. With politics being the art of the possible, the late J&K chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's experiment of trying to bring together the PDP and BJP appears to have bombed.
The chances of ressurecting it is remote given the irreconciliable differences along with the fact that no one wants a snap poll. Matters have gone from bad to worse for more than a year and the ground situation has been steadily deteriorating as evidenced with the violence and poor turnout in the bypolls.
The political atmosphere has changed radically. The challenge before the Narendra Modi government is to keep the political engagement alive. Since 2008 voters in Kashmir have shown a strong desire to vote irrespective of the violence, clashes or separatists giving a call to boycott the democratic process.
The lowest turnout of two per cent in Srinagar this time is a reflection of voters desire to steer clear of participating in the polls. The youthful disrupters whose numbers are increasing on the ground with each passing day is unlikely to cease any time soon.
While the Modi government wants to impose its own idea of India in the Valley, the pull of radical Islam from outside has been posing fresh challenges to the struggle of Kashmiris in the Valley. The trouble in Srinagar is indicative of the uncertain and extremely delicate environment in the state.
The previous Congress led UPA government's attempt to pursue a dialogue with Pakistan in an attempt at normalising the bedeviled relations persuaded more Kashmiris to repose faith in the ballot box.
Ironically Modi began with the handicap of trying to convince the Kashmirs of his sincerity because of the anti-Muslim bias coupled with the ruling BJP's three-point Hindutva agenda one of which seeks abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution according special status to J&K. The other two pertain constructing a Ram temple in Ayodhya and having a Uniform Civil Code.
The Prime Minister's security-centric approach towards Pakistan failed after the killing of Burhan Vani considered as the posture boy of Kashmir and the indiscriminate use of pellets resulting in a large number of deaths. The promise of 'bijli-sadak-pani' intertwined with its Hindutva agenda has failed to work in J&K.
Any attempt to reach out to Islamabad might not work at this juncture with a Pakistani military court sentencing former Indian Navy officer Kulbushan Jadhav to death without even providing consular access in flagrant contravention of the Vienna Convention.
It has been widely seen in the past that the situation in the Valley becomes manageable whenever bilateral issues are up for discussion and resolution. It is another matter that such efforts have invariably come to nought. On the other hand the Mehbooba Mufti government has failed to deliver on all fronts so far -- be it containing terror, governing the state well or in spurring development.
The current round of by-elections has not only been a huge let down in J&K alone but also in R K Nagar in Chennai which was represented by the late chief minister of Tamil Nadu J Jayalalithaa. Reports from Madhya Pradesh are also disconcerting. Stone pelting and firing, along with alleged booth capturing were reported in the Ater assembly seat in Bhind district.
It is a wake up call for the Election Commission of India about the challenges ahead. Considering the protests about the alleged manipulation of the EVMs which has been stoutly denied by the ECI, the autonomous body and a creation of the Constitution, has once again last Wednesday challenged the political parties, scientists and engineers to prove that the EVMs can indeed be hacked. The ECI is banking on the EVMs being tamper proof and hoping for a repeat of 2009 when none could crack the code at a similar open challenge.
With South Kashmir becoming the new centre of militancy, the Centre has inexplicably lost the opportunity to evolve effective counter strategies during the pause in the winter. It has become imperative for the Modi government to restart the dialogue with all the stakeholders to soothe ruffled feathers. Allowing a drift in the surcharged atmosphere has the portends of creating another dangerous turn of events.
(T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator. The views are personal.)