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THE FIRST STEPS IN EARNEST

The author is former MLA, Jammu and Kashmir assembly, and president, Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Development Studies

The Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections of 2002 were important and will be remembered for a plethora of reasons. Notwithstanding the boycott call given by the separatist groups which had inherent threats in it, thereby casting doubts on the extent to which the elections could be called free, the results have attracted the tag of fairness. This has lent the exercise not only credibility but has also given the people a sense of empowerment — they too can effect a change.

Unfortunately “change”, which has all along been the buzzword in these elections, has suddenly encountered a few hurdles, at least in the sense that political permutations and combinations have been unable to come up with a replacement that would manifest change on the ground. And now that governor’s rule has been foisted on the state again, the desperation of those who voted to ensure a change of guard can only be imagined. Given that it is for the first time that the state is faced with such a situation wherein the new government could be an amalgam of political groups and ideologies, the delay in government formation needs to be viewed in context to the peculiar situation in the state.

A tremendous sense of alienation together with alarming levels of cynicism that is prevalent in the population require that the process of government formation be hastened. But those who have been propped up by the ballot to lead and represent the people appear to be caught up with non-issues. Without considering the impact this will have on the popular mindset, those at the political helm are simply buying time in a bid to bargain for more. While this haggling goes on, the common people are waiting and watching the developments with baited breath.

For them, who heads the government is not at all important as long as it is not the National Conference. What is important is who comes to their rescue to provide them with the necessary respite they have been craving for. Apparently, the biggest problem confronting Jammu and Kashmir is that of armed militancy sponsored from across the border. This is a major worry, but there are other problems as well.

For instance, there are voices within the state preaching trifurcation or the reorganization of the state on regional or ethnic lines which are growing shriller with every passing day. Although the people of the state, by voting against these voices, have been able to stem the tide for the time being, complacency on this score can be foolish.

The secessionist tendencies are still there and pose the same danger as Pakistan-sponsored militancy. The row that is being raked up about a chief minister from the Jammu region being unacceptable to the people of the valley is totally unfounded. It is a figment of the imagination of those who want to use it as a bargaining chip to secure the coveted post for themselves.

For the common people, it hardly matters whether the chief minister comes from Jammu or elsewhere. Their worries are bigger. The priority of course lies in keeping the National Conference out of power. The delay in government-formation might turn the tables on those who have promised an end to National Conference-hegemony. Should this happen, it will be an insult to the voters’ intellect. Both the Congress and the People’s Democratic Party will have to share the burden of this blame.

Jammu has all along been voicing concerns about the region getting a “raw deal” from rulers coming from the valley. Therefore, if this time round, there is someone from the region to head the government, someone the people of Jammu can easily identify with, it will be worthwhile to give him a try. The people of all the three regions of the state share not only the legacy of misrule, they also share the relationship of pain and suffering. For instance Doda, another hotbed of militancy, has suffered the same way as the valley.

People want change — they want change from the governance of mediocrity to a vibrant, clean and responsive administration and whosoever can ensure this will be acceptable to the people. Political strife together with inefficient and corrupt administration is the major cause of alienation here. Any dispensation that uses a people-friendly administration as a lever, can arrest the erosion of institutional credibility and restore people’s trust in the system. Once this happens, most of the problems plaguing the state will die their own death. The task before the new dispensation is of course not only to provide clean and responsive administration but also to create a popular support base to enable it to take hard and difficult decisions.

Militancy in the state has curtailed the scope of civil liberties to a great extent. The human rights movement is posed with a great threat, and the corrupt and inefficient police regime compounds the problem. The overall level of corruption has touched a new high.

Corruption combined with the lack of a healthy work culture is not only aggravating the sense of alienation but is also promoting social tensions. People who have suffered due to the turmoil have not been rehabilitated properly (the government does not even have the exact number of orphans and widows). A section of the youth, which has been at the receiving end for the last decade, feels frustrated. Militancy has tarnished the social fabric and created sharp divisions in society.

The situation requires strong corrective measures. The deep sense of alienation needs to be addressed. It cannot be left to mend itself. Enlarging the scope of civil liberties, respect for freedom of expression and improving the overall human rights scenario will be of great help and must be a priority for whoever eventually dons the mantle of power. The youth has lost focus and its sense of belonging. The cynicism among them deprives the society of fresh ideas. The young are drifting towards destruction and lawlessness. The new government, when it comes up, has the responsibility to arrest this drift and infuse among the new generation a sense of belonging and responsibility. The need of the hour is a movement for social reform for the reconstruction of society.

The situation in Jammu and Kashmir is no doubt complex and extraordinary. It requires special attention, a strong leadership, clarity of thought and an unambiguous commitment to the welfare of the masses. These are the priorities the people of the state have set for the new government. The formation of the government should not be seen as the culmination of a process. It should be viewed as the beginning of change.

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