Meeting Hopes, Aspirations of Kashmiri Youth

By Hari Jaisingh

There is never a dull moment in Kashmir’s quicksand politics. The situation is likely to take a new turn there with the exit from politics of bureaucrat-turned politician Shah Faesal. Leader of Jammu & Kashmir People’s Movement (JKPM), Faesal is not the usual run-of-the mill person. He was the first Kashmiri to top the Civil Services examination. In January 2019, he resigned from government service, apparently to give a pro-people development orientation to Kashmir’s messy politics. However, that was not to be. He was detained at the Delhi airport in August 2019 and sent back to Kashmir, after the Centre passed two pieces of legislation to abrogate Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and bifurcate the state into two union territories.

The erstwhile state has been under central rule since June 2018. Over a year after the abrogation of Article 370, Jammu & Kashmir continues to be in a state of drift. Notwithstanding the optimism expressed by Central leaders for a Naya Kashmir, one cannot as yet be sure of the nature of tomorrow. In the prevailing paralysed atmosphere and the absence of a much-awaited political process, no one can be sure who represents the people in a real sense of the term.

Jammu & Kashmir now has a second Lt. Governor in BJP leader Manoj Sinha since the state was officially bifurcated on October 31, 2019. The ruling party is keen to set in motion its own political agenda. However, past events tell us that merely changing Governors or Lt. Governors and power brokers does not constitute a policy or strategy. In the absence of well-focused policies, it is petty politics that thrives. No wonder, we continue to see the political poltroons strutting about in the corridors of power in Srinagar, apparently to bail out Central leaders of the impasse that they have landed themselves in. As for the power pundits who are entrusted with the task of Kashmir affairs at the Centre, they appear to be ignorant of the changing ground realities, particularly the hopes and aspirations of young Kashmiris.

Adhocism in thinking and action does not add to the credibility of the persons at the helm. If Kashmir continues to remain a problem under the Modi regime, it is mainly because of the fact that top Central leaders still prefer to live in a make-believe world of their own.

During the past few months, selective mainstream political leaders have been released from detention under certain conditions. This is a half-hearted approach to the political process that the Modi establishment has often talked about. Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar Abdullah are technically free persons, but they lie low since the Jammu & Kashmir Administration does not desire them to be politically active unless they are ready to toe the official line. Congress leader Saifuddin Soz questions that if he is a free man, why he is barred from moving out where he wishes to go. Sajad Lone, the chairman of Jammu & Kashmir People’s Conference, was released from house arrest on July 31. However, his party members say he cannot go out. Amidst this complex setting, former Chief Minister and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chief, Mehbooba Mufti, continues to be under detention under the Public Safety Act (PSA). She is the only prominent political leader still detained under PSA.

Normalcy in Kashmir cannot be restored unless political leaders are allowed freedom of speech and expression. Aside from this, another important challenge before the Centre is the restoration of statehood for Kashmir as well as for Jammu. As for Ladakh, the people seem to be satisfied with its status as a Union Territory.

My main concern is whether the induction of seasoned politicians such as Manoj Sinha can make a difference in starting a dialogue with leaders in Kashmir. I keep my hope alive, for I believe that enforced silence is not the right answer for tackling the Kashmir problem internally. I understand that tight security was enforced in the region on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of the revocation of Article 370. I support this measure by the Centre but certainly do not endorse the Police blocking of an all-party meeting by National Conference president Farooq Abdullah at his house.

It is worth noting that Farooq Abdullah was once the face of the nation at international fora and there is no reason to believe that he would act against India’s basic interests. He may have his own perspective on recent happenings in Kashmir, but the BJP must hear him out. After all, the Kashmir problem cannot be resolved unilaterally.

India’s biggest asset globally has been its democratic structure. Central leaders must follow this spirit of democracy, and that too, with a human touch since the ultimate goal is to win over the hearts of the people of Kashmir. In this context, we ought to constantly remember that mere rhetoric cannot be a substitute for well-focused national goals and interests, fully backed by political will of those at the helm.

It also needs to be appreciated that historical blunders of yesteryears can only be set right by learning from past mistakes so that these are not repeated. I see yet another opportunity for the country’s leadership to tackle Kashmir’s internal problems in a well-planned and integrated manner.

One, the first priority of Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha should be to put the Kashmir house in order through a proper communication process at all levels of Kashmiri society. This calls for appropriate governance and giving the people a clean and transparent administration.
Two, a time-bound development-oriented strategy and a plan of action needs to be initiated afresh on a priority basis.
Three, the key to economic thrusts in Kashmir must be the generation of jobs for the youth. The problem of unemployment is the biggest curse, which provides ready material for militancy.
Four, a complete reorientation in the politico-administration system is required for rebuilding Kashmiri society on the time-tested traditional lines of Sufism and secular credentials.
Five, a comprehensive review and control is called for on the flow of foreign money for dubious purposes.
Six, the process of a dialogue with all political groups ought to be an on-going exercise. In fact, the destiny of Kashmir has to be guided intelligently and sharply.
Seven, the leaders at the helm of Kashmir affairs have to pursue a proactive policy on the ground and not merely in speech.
Eight, healing touch apart, concerted efforts are needed again for the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley. They form a part of the basic ingredients of Kashmir’s secular policy and its liberal traditions.

Finally, the main goal for the establishment is one of making Kashmir a live paradise of the Republic of India. Success of Kashmir policy in the prevailing messy situation depends on the political will of Central and state leaders. They have to act firmly, decisively, and ruthlessly for a Naya Kashmir.

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Journalist, South Asian Analyst