Initiative for a political process in J&K

By K.N. Pandita

In any case, after a long spell of Presidential rule, the political process has to begin in the J&K. The administration has to pass into the hands of the elected government.

In the lexicon of contemporary politics, normalcy has a new connotation. Just as we may have to put up with Coronavirus so shall we have to put up with fractured normalcy. We may have to live under the shadow of the gun for a long time. Therefore normalcy cannot be taken as the latchkey for entry to the political process.

After their release from house arrest, Kashmir politicians of all hues have demanded resumption of the political process along with other demands.

The newly formed Apni Party is the old wine in a new bottle. Leaders hopping in and out of mainstream parties like NC, PDP and Congress etc. have come together in Apni Party more for personal aggrandizement or ambition than the commonality of ideology. No mainstream party in Kashmir has anything by the name of ideology.

Nevertheless, lumped or opportunistic formulations are not unknown in the democratic process. Above all, in our democratic setup people are free to form associations. If they felt disgruntled with previous parties that is understandable because of lack of conviction though frequent floor changing is something not generally approved by the voters.

Apni Party was incepted some months back with an aura of fanfare. The prominent members visited New Delhi and met with the Home Minister and the Prime Minister among others. It announced its manifesto, albeit briefly. It gave the impression that the party’s political thinking was more pragmatic. They looked at the political scenario from a different perspective.

However, sceptics were not immediately forthcoming with their reaction but ordinary and gullible people of Kashmir thought the party was planning a breakthrough in the existing stalemate. Thus they waited and watched.

Over time, the party began to reassess its stand on some of the more ticklish issues of the Union Territory. Like any other serious political party, we noticed rumbling within and people connected with it asked pointed questions. The founding members found it increasingly difficult to give a convincing response not concurrent with what the mainstream political leadership stood for. Perhaps the initial euphoria that had gripped the party began to wane by degrees. The thinking among some sections of civil society and the media as well that the party enjoyed the blessings of New Delhi was no more sustainable. It was so because New Delhi did not show any cognizable appreciation for the emergence of another valley-centric party. BJP cadres in Kashmir had begun to feel that their constituency was expanding in the valley and hence maintained a reasonable distance from Apni Party.

Continued lukewarm response from New Delhi, and diminishing public receptivity in the valley, forced this party to come out with a clear and comprehensive manifesto of how it assesses the ground situation. It didn’t find the nerve to mould the misguided masses.

Only a couple of days back, the party senior leader led a delegation to the Lt, Governor and presented him a long and exhaustive Memorandum that lists no fewer than 23 demands. A close examination of the Memorandum shows that it is more a wishful list in the cart than a set of policy directives which the party will pursue to sell to the electorate and come to power.

This necessitates a dispassionate study of the text of the Memorandum and the demands tabled. The question that any impartial observer may ask after reading the memorandum is this: In what way does the Memorandum of Apni Party differ from the demands, written or spoken, of other political dissenting parties of the valley? In reality, this Memorandum is a replication of their demand and there is nothing new in it except that in some matters it has shabbily come down to make mundane demands which a district revenue officer can handle. Except for the demand of restoration of the statehood status, restoration of special status and holding of elections for the assembly the rest of the demands are all which administrative machinery can handle. These are no policy matters for which the Governor’s intervention was needed. It is like the home task a teacher suggests to his pupil.

The Memorandum says that the party wants to take up with the Governor some issues on a priority basis. Of course, many issues merit the raising on a priority basis for a solution. But other party spokesmen have also raised these issues and there is nothing significant in raising them again. The government is fully aware of these issues.

We are surprised that some vital issues that need to be discussed and addressed on priority basis have been left out in the Memorandum. There seems no justification for doing so. The foremost issue is of addressing the home-grown terrorism and recurrent encounters that take place not only in South but in North Kashmir also like the districts of Kupwara and Baramulla. If we analyze the history of militancy of the last two years in Kashmir, we find that the gun-wielding youth are mostly Kashmiris and there are very few Pakistani nationals. Training camps are functional within the valley in deep forests and sequestered forest recesses. That is not a good sign. After all Kashmiri youth went astray are getting killed.Any people-friendly political party must make it the priority to chart out a plan of reaching the villages and towns with a definite mission of dissuading the youth from joining militancy and also getting into touch with the family members to advise them not to allow their kids to adopt the path of violence. There is no word about how to dissuade the Kashmiri youth from joining militancy. Should it not be the concern of a political party based in the valley?

The second glaring discrepancy in the Memorandum is that it is silent about three hundred thousand plus Kashmiri Pandit displaced persons who have become refugees in their own country. The party Memorandum does not demand a commission of inquiry into the genocide of the religious minority of the Pandits, ethnic cleansing of the valley and the forced exodus of the entire community. It does not consider their return and rehabilitation a priority issue whereas it has two paragraphs in the case of a missing person in Rajouri. This discrepancy is intentional and has remained because there is no accredited Pandit representative in the party. The organizers have considered it unnecessary to have a Pandit of acceptable credentials to be a component. We have no grudge against the two Hindu members from Jammu who were part of the delegation for not opening their mouth on Pandit issue because we know they are tongue-less people. As such, the party loses its credentials of secularist construct. Practically it is a party of the valley-based majority community leaders who have been hopping in and out of political parties just because they were not given elbow space.

Another important issue which the Memorandum has very carefully avoided to touch upon is the broad spectrum of State-Centre relationship in future if the statehood status of J&K is restored. As we know, there has been much bitterness on some issues of common interest which has done damage to the interests of the State. The previous regimes had, very, unfortunately, adopted a hostile stance on almost all bilateral matters with the Centre and this was to the detriment of the people of the State.

In the final analysis, the Memorandum is entirely based on a charter of demands and nowhere does it speak about the duties and responsibilities. The fate of such imbalanced and non-nuanced documents is already known to the Kashmir watchers. It abundantly reflects the dilemma and the waywardness of the party and puts a question mark on its ability to deliver goods.

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