By Nimesh Bansal
India’s central government has always required two distinct approaches: One for governing Jammu and Kashmir, and another for governing the rest of the country. When the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power in 2014 and forged an alliance with the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the restive region, there were apprehensions about how a Hindu-dominated party will govern India’s only Muslim-dominated state.
The Chief Minister’s plea
Jammu and Kashmir’s population has long been caught in the crossfire of India and Pakistan’s frosty relations. With no reprieve in sight, J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti recently weighed in, “Violence has inflicted only miseries upon the people and the state needs to be taken out of this vicious cycle. This is the main objective to stitch the alliance (with the BJP) to form the government in the state and my government will continue to pursue this goal with all seriousness.” She added, “Dialogue is the only way out and I appeal to the governments of India and Pakistan to resume the talks and resolve the mutual issues amicably. Dialogue alone will end mayhem and destruction and bring peace.”
While a bilateral agreement between India and Pakistan indeed seems to be the only solution to the perpetual Kashmir problem, the BJP promised a lot of optimism when they took over the reins in Kashmir four years ago. At the time of assuming power, BJP had outlined its vision for J&K as “aiming to make Jammu and Kashmir a peaceful and progressive state through holistic development.” However, where do we stand today?
The government’s unfulfilled promises
The government had earmarked crores of rupees for the “holistic development”, but four years from then, it is yet to be implemented. A sum of ₹2,000 crore was sanctioned for the construction of AIIMS Jammu, of which only ₹90.84 crore has been released, and none actually utilised. For the flagship Smart Cities project, out of a hefty grant of ₹500 crore, only ₹2 crore was released, of which ₹1.6 crore has been spent. Progress has stalled on the construction of IIM Jammu, for which ₹31.16 crore has been spent out of the total ₹61.9 crore released. There is a similar story IIT Jammu, for which a sum of ₹85 crore has been spent out of ₹100.66 crore.
The picture gets bleaker with a look at the state-wide projects, as out of ₹200 crore, approved for improving sports infrastructure, a sum of ₹30 crore was released, out of which only ₹13.69 crore has been spent. Relief and rehabilitation of Jammu migrants was a key promise when the alliance took charge, but not a single penny has been released so far by the concerned authorities to reach out to the deprived population. The list of unfulfilled promises goes on but the real issue is the party’s ignorance or failure to understand the dynamics of unrest in Jammu and Kashmir.
Digging down to the root cause
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always given the Kashmir Valley two choices: Development or political autonomy. Even while inaugurating South Asia’s longest road tunnel in 2017 that connects the 9.2 kilometre stretch from Chennai to Nashri in Jammu and Kashmir, Modi asked the youth to choose between stone pelting and joining the mainstream development process. It has been ingrained in the minds of Kashmiri people that it is India or nothing. A dialogue with the residents of the region has never been on the minds of the government whose only aim, it seems, is to consolidate its power. This forced choice has exacerbated the political restlessness in J&K, which no amount of “holistic development” can cure.
The silver lining that isn’t
What the government, however, can claim is its success in curbing terrorist incidents in the state. In the face of Pakistan continually violating ceasefire along the Line of Control, the alliance has shown its mettle in dealing with those attacks. Under its regime, 580 terrorists have been gunned down compared to 471 under the Congress-led alliance. Terror-related incidents are down from 1,218 to 1,094. Civilian deaths stand at 100 as compared to 108 under the previous government.
While the ends may be satisfactory, the alliance’s means have come under scrutiny. The government has been accused of resorting to inhumane measures to ensure law and order in the valley. The use of pellet guns to quell protests last year had caused large-scale visual impairment among civilians and aroused severe condemnation from human rights activists from all over the world. Further, video footage of a civilian tied to the bonnet of a jeep being used as a ‘human shield’ surfaced last year, which was sought to be justified by the army. However, basic human rights continue to be amiss.
The situation gets worse
The government’s case has not improved by the issuance of a bizarre 16-page order titled ‘Social Media Usage Policy for Government Employees’ last month. Curbing personal freedom, the orders specify how over 4.8 lakh government employees in the state must behave on social media. It bans employees from engaging in political discussions online or sharing tweets, status updates, or blogs that are political in nature. The order also restricts any of the employees’ ‘dependents’ from engaging in such practices. ‘Dependents’ are defined as parents, spouse, children or even a shopkeeper from whom the employee may be making daily household purchases. These draconian new rules allow the government to misuse its power at the sight of criticism in any form.
While such rules may be sometimes necessary for the volatile atmosphere that Jammu and Kashmir finds itself in, the fact that the government has let it get to this undermines the promises made to the people of Kashmir.
Believing in Narendra Modi, Jammu and Kashmir voted the BJP to power in 2014. However, as the 2019 General Elections loom, Modi will be hoping that the faltering PDP-BJP alliance in Kashmir can do things in one year what they haven’t been able to do in four.
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