What does Kashmir want from the new political setup? Development.

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Kashmiri women in a queue to cast their votes. (Representational picture)
Kashmiri women in a queue to cast their votes. (Representational picture)

On August 5th, the government of India bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir in two union territories and scrapped the 72 year old Article 370, which gave special status to this erstwhile princely state of undivided India. The BJP-led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government had consistently maintained that instead of providing exclusive privileges to the people of J&K, Article 370 was discriminatory and a major hurdle in the development of state and was one of the reasons for militancy in the state that has claimed thousands of precious lives in Jammu and Kashmir over the last three decades.

Over the last 72 years since partition, political discourse in the state of J&K witnessed many upheavals. It may come as a surprise to many but since its inception in 1949, Article 370 had been amended nearly 50 times and this led to dilution of its provisions due to which many felt that there was no need for New Delhi to revoke Article 370. In fact, while addressing a press conference recently, Congress spokesperson Pawan Kheda proudly announced that “Not once or twice, but the Congress party diluted Article 370 as many as 12 times, but without letting any controversy break out.”

Everyone knows that Congress had tinkered with Article 370 and while National Conference (NC) had allowed this to happen, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) allied with BJP even after knowing fully well that this party strongly advocated abrogation of Article 370. Thus, the NC, Congress and PDP should be last ones to complain about its revocation as having been in some way involved in the dilution process of Article 370. In fact, none of them have the moral right to speak against it.

We all know how political parties in Kashmir always used the Article 370 abrogation issue to attract voters and many leaders have misused its provisions to create financial empires. Thus, abrogation of Article 370 will not only deprive mainstream political parties of an emotional issue to exploit, but also usher in more transparency and increase accountability, thereby reducing financial mismanagement.

During the preceding years, many attempts were made to create a ‘Third Political Front’ and many believe that even New Delhi was keen that this effort should materialise. Some 12 years back Er. Rashid ventured into Kashmir politics and launched Awami Ithad Party (AIP) using the same slogan of autonomy at the behest of his mentors to replace the existing political establishment. And though he did get elected, but his party failed to make any dent in local politics and Rashid ended up facing humiliation on every front.

Separatist-turned-mainstream-politician Sajjad Lone who thanks his father’s legacy for being the founder of People’s Conference (PC) political outfit also tried luck in Kashmir politics with the patronage of BJP at centre. But despite having a strong follower base and immense popularity in the Handwara belt of Kashmir thanks to his father Late Abdul Gani Lone (who was killed by unknown gunmen in the year 2002), he still could not make his mark in the political arena. BJP’s attempt to ‘launch’ Lone in Kashmir politics proved to be a big failure.

However, in the year 2002, government of India tried yet another experiment in the state of Jammu and Kashmir by promoting Mufti Mohmmad Sayeed who had floated his own political party and named it as PDP (Peoples Democratic Party). An astute and matured politician who had earlier severed ties with New Delhi as a union minister, Mufti was highly valued by the central government and he proved them right by winning 16 seats in State Legislative Assembly in his first political debut in Jammu and Kashmir.

It is also pertinent to mention that National Conference (NC) won highest number of Legislative Assembly seats (27), but their party leader Omar Abdullah could not make it to Assembly as he lost his seat to PDP’s stalwart Late Qazi Afzal. As the father-son duo did not want to put some other NC leader on the throne, the NC forfeited its claim to form the government paving the way for Mufti Mohmmad Sayeed to form government in Jammu and Kashmir. Thus, even though PDP was a comparatively much newer entrant in Kashmir’s political arena, the party with help from government of India became a political force that could stand up against formidable NC and Congress in regional politics.

But after the demise of Mufti Mohmmad Sayeed, Mehbooba Mufti was unable keep the PDP flock together and the party started cracking. Seeing PDP implode, some of its leaders started parleys with the Indian government in an endeavour to form an alternate government in the state. However, due to stubbornness of Mehbooba Mufti, nothing came out of this.

When it seemed that there was no one to fill the political void in Kashmir, 2009 IAS topper Shah Feasel suddenly announced his decision to quit his government job and enter state politics by launching Jammu and Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM). Despite being lured by both mainstream political parties and the separatists, Feasal refused to join either of them and instead promised to give Kashmir politics a new direction by honestly fighting for the rights of the people.

He was joined by firebrand JNU student leader Shehla Rashid and two times MLA Mir Javid Mustafa. It seemed that Kashmir had finally found an alternative to dynasty politics. Unfortunately, Feasal and his associates vanished from the scene just as suddenly as they had appeared!

Now, with Jammu and Kashmir being bifurcated into two union territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, it’s the political parties here that have lost the scope of openly looting state’s wealth and indulging in corrupt practices like nepotism and favouritism even though unemployment is high and the benefits aren’t reaching the ordinary Kashmiris. That is why the majority of political people in J&K are of the opinion that statehood must not be restored as it gives them a free hand to those at the helm of affairs to fill their own coffers and look after the interests of their own kith and kin and play favourites.

It is thus incumbent upon government of India to rise to the occasion and ensure that the common man in Kashmir gets his rightful due. While New Delhi has rolled out many initiatives to ensure social justice by providing skill training and generating employment opportunities, the acid test is ensuring that these schemes and policies for the well being of people do not go awry. Both the central and state administration needs to remember that acceptance of Article 370 abrogation at the grass roots level depends entirely on the success of its schemes to improve the lot of the common man in Kashmir. And should these fail to achieve their objectives, the people of Kashmir are bound to get a feeling that New Delhi is pursuing the same policies as were adopted by political parties in power in J&K before Article 370 was abrogated!

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