BY D.C. PATHAK
The results of the DDC polls that covered, like in a general election, the entire population of Jammu and Kashmir, reflect some positive trends serving the national interests. The state had seen an unbroken cycle of Assembly elections since 1996 and when after 15 months of cessation of political activity, following the abrogation of Article 370, there was a return of people’s freedom to choose their representatives for the Development Councils this evoked a response of welcome.
Considering the extent of the voter’s participation in the polls despite the overhanging security environ created by Pak-sponsored terrorism, it can be said that Kashmiris, like citizens anywhere else, were recording their participation in governance through this election. Even though the Gupkar alliance had raised the slogan of return of special status for the state, the appeal of this election for the people basically lay in the normalcy they wanted to feel by way of having the elected leaders in their proximity — in place of an invisible government operating from a remote centre. The DDC polls, therefore, signalled a continuing preference of the people of the state for a familiar democratic rule — notwithstanding the pro-Pak separatist agenda put out by some self-seeking elements of the Valley. The results debunk the narrative that Kashmiris were totally alienated from India.
The poll tally in the Kashmir and Jammu regions again conforms to the known demographic and socio-political patterns of Jammu and Kashmir — the Valley-based regional parties this time working in alliance that included CPI(M), secured 110 seats of which 26 were in the Jammu region. National Conference’s enlarged presence in Jammu region shows the party’s democratic reach — it did not imply the spread of separatist ethos in that area. In fact, the poor performance of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in comparison to NC suggests that Kashmiris did not approve of the pro-militancy and pro-Pak policy adopted by its leadership all through the period of the last coalition rule.
The BJP, on its part, has decidedly performed very well with 75 wins and the highest poll percentage in the Union Territory. Its traditional base amongst Hindus of Jammu region has been strengthened but the three seats it has secured in and around Srinagar show an entrenchment of democratic sentiment in the state more than anything else. The victory of Congress in 26 seats adds to democratisation of politics and the success of Independents in as many as 50 places, mostly in the Valley, is a milestone of progress made by the state towards modernisation that arose from complete electoral freedom.
Independents have won on the call for development and also worn down the myth that Valley-based parties had a monopoly of political hold on the Kashmiris. The success of BJP dispels the claim of the opposition that people across the state had resented the changes effected by the Centre about domicile rules and property acquisition. It is difficult to ignore the reality that Kashmiris are looking for good governance and development and are less inclined to be trapped by narratives about their position being different from that of other citizens of a democratic India or about Kashmir being dependent on Pakistan’s goodwill — floated by the Valley leaders. Also, it seems that the corruption of these leaders will gradually lead to disenchantment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir with them as their wrongdoings were being exposed for the first time.
It was a challenge for the Centre to remedy all the harm that the monopoly of rule by the pro-separatist Valley parties over decades had done to this important border state of India, in the cover of Article 370. There was little good done to the average Kashmiri. It will never be forgotten that the Valley leaders maintained deliberate silence when Kashmiriyat was being destroyed by the Mujahideen infiltrated by Pakistan from across the LOC or when Kashmiri Pandits were violently driven out from the Valley by Islamic militants acting under the guidance of ISI. Kashmir was special for India because of the Kashmiriyat and not because of the advocacy by separatists that Pakistan should be allowed to have a say in its affairs just because it was a Muslim majority state. Kashmiris, like any other people, wanted development and peace but these were denied to them by the self-centered leaders of the Valley parties who were hand-in-glove with the pro-Pak forces.
It would take some time before the administration of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir in the post-370 months, establishes a system of governance that brought the benefits of progress and safety to the citizens there — cutting across sectarian and regional dividing lines. It is known how Pakistan has stepped up cross-border terrorism to destabilise Kashmir in this period and how it has ganged up with China in creating border problems for India. It is time Kashmiris questioned the Valley-based parties on their failure to protest against the bartering away of POK territory to China by the military regime of Pakistan for CPEC. People of Jammu and Kashmir would eventually welcome the strong presence of the Indian army in the Union Territory of Ladakh insofar as this will enable India to deal with the Chinese encroachment on the integral state of Jammu and Kashmir that was an inseparable part of India.
The Centre, at the highest level of government, had already assured the people that abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A did not mean that the status of Jammu and Kashmir will not be restored to full statehood at an appropriate time. Once it is brought home to the people of Jammu and Kashmir that the peace and development they had been denied all these years will be brought back to them, the state will move towards its rightful recognition as the ‘crown jewel’ of India.
The Indian army and security forces have an arduous task of preventing infiltration, taking out terrorists, including their local collaborators, with minimal collateral damage and securing cooperation from the law-abiding citizens. The state administration was known to have harboured Pak agents and it would be a long haul before it was cleaned up completely. The progress achieved in governance so far is quite satisfactory and the run-up to the regular Assembly poll, hopefully, will see the complete isolation of the pro-Pak separatists and a corresponding advance of Jammu and Kashmir as a progressive, peaceful and developed state of India. The Kashmiri youth are already lining up for start-ups and employment with the government in any part of the country and the Centre would be advised to accommodate them in security forces of the nation to the extent possible.
Special attention has to be given to the education and financial independence of the girls in particular. The Kashmiri youth would do very well once they tasted the advantage of becoming a part of a big nation like India. Some cases have already come to the notice of misguided youth seeking to come back to the mainstream, regretting their mistake and denouncing Pakistan for putting them onto the wrong path. Re-discovery of Kashmir as a land of great human values contained in Kashmiriyat and of kind, self-respecting people who believed in honest pursuits, is not far away and that will come about once the Valley-based parties gave up their communal, separatist and pro-Pak proclivities and became truly democratised. DDC elections show that the Kashmiri voters will, in course of time, force such a healthy shift in the attitude of these parties and finally reject those who acted as proxies for Pakistan.
It is erroneous to claim that those who turned out to vote did so to express their opposition to the repeal of Art 370 — the total votes cast in favour of PAGD lag far behind the score of BJP and the success of Independents further brought out the interest shown by the average Kashmiri in local development rather than in the political rhetoric about the international dimensions of the ‘issue’ of Kashmir. The communal divide did come into play because the pro-separatist parties had been talking in terms of Jammu and Kashmir being a Muslim majority state and, in the process, placing themselves on the same side of the fence as Pakistan. The year long LG’s rule has been able to focus more on development and pro-people schemes — in another year’s time the benefits accruing to the Kashmiris would be clearly evident. A challenge for the administration is to stop the free play of Pak lobbyists in the Valley and make counter-terror operations totally Intelligence-based so that they did not look oppressive and did not create trust deficit.
On the whole, the Army and the security forces are now receiving a better response from the law-abiding people and militancy of the youth is not being endorsed the way it was when the separatist leaders had unfettered freedom. The Army’s new focus is on Ladakh where the Sino-Pak military alliance — anchored on CPEC that was built on POK territory — has to be confronted in the long range. Direct administration of Jammu and Kashmir by the Centre for a finite period provides better security and development prospects to the Kashmiris and this is beginning to dawn on the people there. Kashmiris, hopefully, are seeing through the confusion about their identity and relationship with the Centre that had been created over the years by the vested political interests operating out of the Valley. The nation’s attention and support to Kashmir as a border state of India will meanwhile ensure its all-round progress in the months ahead.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)