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Hitting all the wrong notes in J&K(Hindu Editorial)

The Central government headed by the BJP does not possess the kind of levers needed to deal with the ground realities in Kashmir. It needs to do more than merely making strong statements from time to time in the belief that this would check the profligacy of the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and his cabinet on matters of security

Events in Jammu and Kashmir seemingly appear more surreal than real, making it difficult to separate the truth from perceptions. The 2014 elections in Jammu and Kashmir had raised expectations of a significant shift in a progressive direction as far as the State was concerned. The national parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had between them secured over 45 per cent of the vote, an increase of more than 14 per cent when compared to the 2008 elections. Thus, the perception was that this would herald closer cooperation between Srinagar and New Delhi. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be happening — at least not yet.
Skewed mandate

A contributory factor, possibly, has been the skewed nature of voting patterns which convey the impression of a sharp divide — between a predominantly Muslim populated Kashmir Valley and the Hindu majority Jammu region. Votes in the Valley largely went in favour of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), virtually shutting out the BJP as Jammu voted overwhelmingly for the BJP. The seat arithmetic did not provide much scope for the emergence of a stable government, unless the PDP and the BJP — representing two opposite poles of the political spectrum — combined forces. This did eventually happen, but only after an extended and corrosive delay. Moreover, the contents of the common minimum programme of the two parties, which was forged after several rounds of discussion, hardly inspire confidence about the longevity of their understanding.
Managing an “unlikely coalition” of this nature, requires both sides to adhere strictly to the rules of “coalition dharma”. At the very least, it requires that neither party undermines key postulates of the common minimum programme, and that they take care not to upset carefully contrived arrangements in place. At best, there could be some room for employing a scalpel — but used with a surgeon’s dexterity — rather than a sledgehammer used by a construction worker. Consultation and accommodation have to be the watchwords. All this is presently in short supply.
Breaking the concord

The choice of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as Chief Minister for a full six-year term, did foreclose some of these options. Mr. Sayeed promptly proceeded to violate some of the basic principles of the understanding. Almost his very first pronouncement was to credit Pakistan, the Hurriyat Conference and the militants for the smooth conduct of the Assembly elections in the State. This stoked a controversy that is unlikely to die down. A little after this, an even more serious controversy erupted following the release of Masarat Alam, a Kashmiri separatist hardliner and a close affiliate of the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Hence, not all of New Delhi’s efforts to pour oil on troubled waters can disguise the vast differences in approach and attitude that exist between the two coalition partners.
Militancy in Jammu and Kashmir is at its lowest since the 1980s. Nothing should be allowed to happen that would lead to a reversal of this situation 
Mr. Sayeed is not known to be a conciliator. The Congress realised this during the PDP-Congress coalition of 2002-2008. On that occasion, he had only a truncated three- year term. His strong views on how to chart Kashmir’s destiny are in sharp contrast with views held by a majority of the national mainstream. Further, given his animus towards the Abdullah family, which leads the National Conference, it is only to be expected that every decision taken by the Omar Abdullah ministry is likely to be overturned. All this and more could certainly have been anticipated.
Hence, Mr. Sayeed’s current statements must not be perceived or treated, as an aberration. The truth is that the Chief Minister is ambivalent on the issue of India-Pakistan relations. He is viewed as someone who has a soft spot for the Hurriyat. His approach to militancy and the role of militants in the Valley has often been at odds with New Delhi’s perceptions. Even earlier, as the Chief Minister, he often demonstrated that he was not on the same page as New Delhi on these matters. His elder daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, had also previously demonstrated a “softness” towards militancy and the militants.
More serious than this, are the implications of the Chief Minister’s so-called “healing touch”. The road to hell, it is said, is often paved with good intentions. The release of Masarat Alam may be viewed as a minor incident, but can fuel a new wave of unrest, and give fresh grist to residual anti-national forces within the Valley. In turn, it could encourage Pakistan to embark on more aggressive moves.
Masarat Alam has been actively involved in violent activities for long. Kashmir’s dangerous decade of the 1990s began with a single instance of the abduction of Rubaiya Sayeed, Mr. Sayeed’s other daughter, in December 1989, and the letting off of some militants in exchange for her release. As a result, Kashmir and India suffered a great deal and it has taken more than two decades to retrieve the situation.
Replay of the past?

To many, the events of the past few days are beginning to look like an eerie replay of what occurred then, and which was to push Kashmir almost to the brink. In December 1989, Mr. Sayeed was the Union Home Minister when his daughter’s abduction and the release of militants took place. The circumstances of the release and the exchange remain controversial to this day.
Likewise, Masarat Alam’s release remains a matter of controversy. His release coincided with Mr. Sayeed’s assumption of office, leading immediately to a hue and cry. This was followed by strong statements by the Union Home Minister that terrorism and violence would be dealt with a strong hand — implicitly blaming the PDP-led government for the release. All this seemed to end in a whimper, following a belated explanation that the release had been ordered by the State government during Governor’s rule. The belated explanation has, however, not convinced anybody. Rather, it has all the makings of a Sherlock Holmes novel.
The short-, medium- and long-term implications of all this need to be carefully considered. Kashmir remains a highly sensitive region to this day. The government in New Delhi headed by the BJP also does not possess the kind of levers needed to deal with the ground realities in Kashmir, unlike the Congress when it was in alliance with the PDP. The Central government needs to do more than merely making strong statements from time to time in the belief that this would check the profligacy of the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and his cabinet on matters of security.
Mr. Sayeed is unlikely to be deterred by the vehement opposition voiced by the Lok Sabha to his actions, or the Prime Minister’s categoric disapproval of his controversial remarks. The Chief Minister is a shrewd leader who realises that he can possibly tap into a lingering, though currently receding, anti-India sentiment among sections of Kashmiris, who continue to remain unhappy with the Centre.
Currently, militancy in Jammu and Kashmir is at its lowest since the 1980s. Nothing should be allowed to happen that would lead to a reversal of this situation. No price should be seen as too heavy for this. Measures need to be put in place before the situation slips out of control. We do not need a repeat of what took place during the tenure of the Janata Dal government led by Prime Minister V.P. Singh of which Mr. Sayeed was a part of as the Union Home Minister.
Once the situation stabilises, the healing measures initiated during the years 2005-2010, under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, should be revived and energised. The reports prepared by the four working groups should be retrieved for early implementation. The round tables should be revived. All this had made considerable progress during that period, but withered on the vine due to neglect post-2010.
It may be too early, just yet, to consider a India-Pakistan entente that could result in the setting up of a cooperative and consultative mechanism to deal with the problems of people on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC). The Pakistan Army seems to have once again gained ascendancy and can be expected to be a spoiler in terms of better India-Pakistan relations. India will need to wait for better times. Nevertheless, India must continue to affirm that it favours a resolution of the Kashmir dispute that does not seek to redraw borders, but will enable easier commerce, communication and contact between the Kashmiri people on both sides of the LoC.
(M.K. Narayanan is a former National Security Advisor and former Governor of West Bengal.)

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