The Jammu and Kashmir situation - The context and the response

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New Delhi, Aug 8 (ANI): Four things stand out about the current complex situation in Kashmir.

Two years ago, the common people of Kashmir were hailed as patriots and praised for their courage in braving militant bullets and threats to make assembly elections a success and to put a feather in the cap of Indian democracy. There was unanimity of opinion, both in Jammu and Kashmir and in Delhi that after years of violence ordinary people wanted peace, normalcy and healing.

They wanted to share the Indian dream. Omar Abdullah, the youthful chief minister, was given a god sent opportunity to translate those aspirations into reality, to put the violent past of the state behind and seek a future that would allow Kashmiris to have a sense of dignity and India a sense of security.

In less than two years, that dream lies shattered - there is neither peace, nor normalcy what to talk about healing. Instead, the entire population is viewed with suspicion and as a threat. Alienation is at an all time high.

The entire focus of the government machinery has been on the 'security situation' i.e. militancy.

Different agencies and departments have vied with each other to show that infiltration is down, that militants are demoralised, but that Pakistan continues to train and look for opportunities to create trouble and so on.

Having held successful elections, politicians, elected representatives and intelligence agencies et al, have washed their hands off the hapless people of Kashmir, their hopes and aspirations, and what they had voted for.

As a result, when the storm started, everyone was caught unawares. Notwithstanding hindsight pundits who claim I told you so, the fact of the matter is that almost everyone, including the separatists, and even Pakistan, was surprised by the cloudburst of mass agitations.

Not only was the solid window of opportunity frittered away and the mandate wasted in less than two years, but even today, the political parties, whether Kashmir or national, have no clue about what is happening.

For the last two months, they have vanished from the political landscape. They have little or no links with the agitators and, have made even less effort to forge any. In such a scenario, any kind of all party delegation or meeting seems meaningless, and instead of forging a strategy, appears as an apology for trying to be seen to do something. Despite this, the political class has not learnt its lessons. The PDP seems to revel in the disarray and unpopularity of the NC and the marginalisation of the Congress, little realising that it, too, has become irrelevant.

The stone-pelters - Gen Next as they are called - are charting out a course for themselves. Neither the separatists nor Pakistan, for that matter, have much of a clue that this is happening under their very nose.

Based on the experience of somewhat similar agitations in 2008 and 2009, Gen Next have honed their skills in 2010. Participation of women and children, even at night, is a pointer.

On the one hand, they have realised the futility of militant violence backed and sponsored by Pakistan that got their fathers' generation nothing except decimation and made them orphans. On the other, they have become equally disillusioned with traditional politics, whether it is of the hardliner Geelani kind, the Hurriyat kind or the NC/PDP kind.

They are angry, frustrated, alienated, disillusioned and largely leaderless. They may seem to run on a calendar dictated by Geelani or Musarat Alam but, in fact, they are, seeking a direction. Azaadi is an easy slogan in such a scenario, a diet they have been fed with since birth.

What has been the government's response? The primary reason for the god-sent opportunity of a successful election and mandate being wasted has been the failure of the political leadership at all levels.

Omar Abdullah, despite his affability, personal integrity and charm, must take a major share of the blame.

Not being a politician or an administrator, the complex situation in Jammu and Kashmir has been too much for his inexperience to handle. It didn't help that he was in a coalition with the Congress.

Whatever his personal equations with the Gandhi's, cooperation from the hard-nosed Congress politicians in Jammu and Kashmir left much to be desired. Within his own National Conference (NC), his father's supporters still sulk.

His inexperience and political immaturity was exposed when he totally failed to read the nature of the agitations taking place under his nose.

After braving bullets and curfews for a month-and-a-half, to call the angry Gen Next youth 'anti-social elements' is the height of political folly.

It may have fetched him brownie points in Delhi and in the national media, especially electronic, but it added fuel to fire in Srinagar and showed how out of sync he was with reality.

Two other instances of his immaturity would suffice. Quite possibly, he has spent as much time in Delhi as he has in Srinagar during the last two months. Even if he hasn't, he is far more visible in Delhi's Khan Market than in any place in Srinagar.

This is hardly the best way to reach out to a populace crying for a healing touch. Not surprisingly, when he did visit a hospital a few days ago, he was jeered.

Not only has he been more visible in Delhi but also there is the perception that he runs to Delhi at the first sign of trouble.

For a Kashmiri politician, mainstream or otherwise, the excessive dependence on Delhi does not go down very well with the population. A smart politician has to walk the tight rope between jealously guarding the state's rights and not letting Delhi get concerned about it, a manoeuvre quite beyond Omar.

But Omar and the state politician are only part of the problem. The central government has to accept its share of the blame. If Omar called the agitators anti-social elements, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram didn't win any brownie points in Srinagar by comparing them to the Lashkar-e- Toiba (LeT). His statement showed, as did Omar's, a lack of understanding of what was happening in the Valley.

Then again, the Delhi Durbar chose to discuss Kashmir in the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) rather than in the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA).

The signal to Srinagar was loud and clear, as it has been for the last 62 years - Kashmir is not viewed in Delhi as a political problem, but a security one. And, the prescription of sending additional troops to confront stone pelters was a public relations disaster.

Thereafter, to talk about winning the hearts and minds of the population or, even the offer of a dialogue, smacks of callousness and arrogance of the highest order.

Whether it is the PM or PC or their advisers, all should accept their failure to come to grips with reality and acknowledge that the situation has been mismanaged. Instead of healing the wounds of Kashmiris, they have added salt to festering wounds.

Instead of the 'surge' of additional troops, both the state and central governments should have insisted that ministers and political leaders, who have conveniently vanished from the scene, should make their presence felt and go among the people to assuage their feelings.

The 'surge' should have been political rather than military.

The views expressed by the author are personal (ANI)

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