A year has passed since the decision which was justified as “rectifying a historical blunder” and as paving the way for prosperity, peace, and development in Jammu & Kashmir. For some reason, I still can’t stop thinking why it actually happened. A lot of eyebrows were raised at this move, but notwithstanding all the criticism and diplomatic pressure, New Delhi tactfully succeeded in abrogating Article 370. Broadly speaking, altering the constitutional status of J&K was not an easy task; it carried a lot of risks both politically and strategically. A global backlash duly followed.
After more than a year of the abrogation of Article 370, which according to New Delhi had been a stumbling block in the development and progress of the region, the biggest question that comes to mind is how to restore the diminished faith of the people in the newly transformed democratic and administrative set-up. It was the duty and responsibility of the central government to change the perception of the people and win over their confidence through good governance and transparent administration. Administrative questions aside, the new set-up still faces a fundamental question of legitimacy and there seems no clear roadmap for future administrative strategy for the bifurcated region.
In BJP’s Kashmir policy post 5th August 2019, good and viable governance, transparent and accountable administration, development and progress have been top priority. However, the contours of that policy are not very clear so far. All the promises of developing Kashmir into a “Modern Wonderland” appear totally bleak. It is believed that New Delhi in the past was using corruption as a strategic tool for political appeasement in Kashmir valley and over the years corruption has became institutionalised. This institutionalised corruption, favouritism, nepotism and wrong policies of successive governments before BJP contributed to the social unrest, giving rise to violent insurgency and separatism. Against this backdrop, three years of consistent and escalated counter-insurgency operations were immediately needed for establishing relative calm, reduction in incidents of civil unrest, especially stone pelting, and sharp drop in recruitment in terrorist organisations. This would lay the ground for peaceful progress of the region, though this could not have been achieved without strategically crafted counter-terror operations. The BJP government in this aim has been successful to a much greater extent.
Also, to uproot the corrupt and inefficient political system and to establish a true democratic set-up was another challenge before the government. This, if achieved, would make a difference to the life of each citizen of the state. The Panchayati Raj system in rural areas and municipalities in urban areas were strengthened in order to strengthen grassroots democracy. But at the ground level there still are a lot of flaws and inefficiencies. The new elected Panchs, Sarpanchs and municipal corporators who came out to fight elections in a tough time seem to be feeling valueless and powerless. This way the government would not be able to succeed in establishing a three-tier system of local governance at the village, district and municipal levels.
The present political picture of Jammu and Kashmir is ambiguous and the atmosphere is full of fear, anxiety, concern, uncertainty and helplessness. There is a general opinion that the government has completely failed to deliver on its promise of public outreach and governance deliverance. Moreover, the pulse of the common masses has been ignored and not addressed properly. Jammu and Kashmir continues to be administered and governed by the same old bureaucracy that is steeped in corruption. Bureaucrats don’t behave like they are part of a democratic system but like monarchs, aristocrats and authoritarians. During Covid-19 pandemic the central government has provided adequate and additional funds to all states and union territories for safety and security of the people and better health facilities, but the fact is that bureaucrats here have taken this as an opportunity to be confined in their homes. This badly affects work culture and adds to the sufferings of the common people. In order to broaden public outreach and to nourish a better work culture for quick redress of public issues, the Government of India should immediately appoint political advisors to the Lieutenant Governor so that the officers at grassroots levels are made accountable and their work result-oriented. Otherwise, for a simple work at the tehsil office, a common man will have to continue to make numerous visits.
If we generalise the people’s reaction to abrogation of Article 370, people in Jammu and Kashmir can be classified into two broad categories:
1: A group of people which is not happy with the decision, including regional political parties, separatist groups, bureaucrats, and a section of common people that can be called an ‘angered constituency’.
2: A group of people who have certain expectations from the government and who can be called as an ‘aspirational constituency’.
Regional political parties have united on a single political front and decided to confront the new constitutional order by way of the Gupkar Declaration, i.e., to fight for restoration of the lost autonomous status of the region. Meanwhile, the people falling in aspirational constituency are waiting for their political expectations to be fulfilled by the government. After a year since the abrogation of the constitutional status, common people seem to be crushed in the middle, either by political exploiters or by corrupt bureaucrats and a few police officers. As a keen observer of the prevailing security module and political scenario of the region, common people are stuck in a dilemma as to whom they should trust. Will they take the side of the Gupkar Declaration or trust the BJP government’s promises of good governance, accountability and transparency in administration. My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right (Abraham Lincoln).
—The writer is a journalist. [email protected]