Return of Elected Government In J & K : The Approach Must be Right
Lt General S A Hasnain, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM (Bar), VSM (Bar), Distinguished Fellow, VIF

At best of times J&K remains unpredictable in most spheres, especially in the security realm. However, a reasonably stable political dispensation responsible for governance can make a world of a difference.

If reports are right Governor Vohra offered the most sagacious advice to the political players; the need for an early return of an elected government in J&K. Considering the deteriorating security situation, the attitude of Pakistan towards sponsorship of terror in the state being at best nebulous and the almost complete absence of any grass roots political activity, particularly in South Kashmir, there could not have been a better advice. Much will be written over the next few weeks on the political impact of government formation, the compromise made by different parties and the effect on their respective electorates. However, some practical nuances which may not be easily discernable to observers outside J&K need early examination too. That will set the pace for faster and more complex governance issues and contentious political obstacles for the new government. This is what I intend to do here – suggest those few issues which usually escape practical consideration and hope that the government will give these due attention in the approach to create a more conducive environment and management of perceptions.

J & K today is all about youth. Turbulence in the streets and a return to violent ways owe their existence to the restive youth. One of the issues which governments in J&K have hardly ever focused upon is the diaspora of young people from J&K studying or working in other states due to lack of sufficient opportunities within. The government in the making needs to make this one of its higher priorities in the social field and its impact all over the state will be profound. Let me put down an experience for leaders to look at. In 2011 in the wake of the Kashmir Premier League (KPL) cricket tournament, which was one of the brief moments of positivity in the Valley, the Army was flooded by requests from NGOs to bring its organizational skills to the field of skill development and assist in finding jobs for the youth outside the Valley. The Army experimentally concentrated only on one district and took the lead in training few young people in the fields of hospitality and basic IT skills, including BPOs. It went beyond and networked with NGOs and potential job providers outside J&K to provide a chance to the young trainees to be absorbed in jobs. The slogan was a simple but catchy one which reverberated through the district – ‘Chhoti Shuruat, Bade Khayalat’. While jobs were not too many the young people were transported for the interviews in an organized way but after securing the jobs they faced the problem of accommodation. No one was willing to give people from J&K any accommodation. That is when the Army swung into action living by its credo – ‘We make the Impossible, Possible’. Officers and men traveled to far away Indore, Bhopal, Jaipur and Delhi, motivating house owners and standing surety for the J&K youth. Seeing the Army’s involvement people willingly relented after gentle persuasion. Considering the incidents in recent years involving J&K youth outside the state and the unwillingness of parents to send their wards to seek better opportunities, it again calls for a transformational initiative. If each Minister is given responsibility to liaise with one state government and maintain contact with the youth, sensitizing them and the state officials on the potential challenges, things can change drastically. Young people conduct immature acts unknowingly and en masse through influence of a few. Constant goading about their future and responsibility towards their families is something which needs to be brought home to all those stepping out to greener pastures. Perhaps a few catchy credos will happy in the perception being corrected.

Second is about winter management of Kashmir and Ladakh with stakes being created for the Jammu business community. Again, an example here. In a particularly severe winter in the past, with the road from Jammu to Srinagar closed, on the third day I had the civil administration approaching me for assistance not in the field of disaster management or evacuation of people stuck on the roads; that the army does without even being asked. The assistance sought was for cooking gas and kerosene from the reserve stocks of the Army. I ensured that we released all the carefully stocked supplies we had; every 14.5 Kg cylinder had its gas redistributed to empty cylinders to give about 5 Kg per cylinder and provide these to needy families. But this was not without a serious piece of advice to the officials. They were told in no uncertain terms that the Army caters for stocks of 90 days at the minimum and 210 days at the maximum for ‘its troops’ as part of winter stocking. The lumbering convoy movement that people observe through the summer is nothing but much of these stocks being moved to the LoC, Ladakh and some hinterland depots. These are then lifted to LoC posts by animal transport and porters which provides considerable employment to the local population. Seventy years of experience of winter provides sufficient data to the administration for its stocking exercise provided there is storage space and will to do it. The State Government will do yeoman service to the population if it can ensure uninterrupted supplies of food, milk, medicines and hard varieties of vegetables during these difficult periods. The energetic business community of Jammu can be brought into this to establish innovative models by linking Vyapar Mandals of different towns. Details can always be worked out through a management study by any of India’s highbrow management institutions.

To lessen the burden of dependence on the Army the administration needs to concentrate on two areas - road clearance within the Valley, South Pir Panjal/Kishtwar and Ladakh, and medical support , the absence of both of which creates misery for the population. Major roads need to be identified and one time investment should be made in snow clearing equipment. In addition a major effort towards mobile medical care for people in outlying areas will add much to the confidence of the population in the elected government. During snow block days through winter, medical care takes a beating and the Army has to extend itself all over to evacuate and treat people. The Army is always happy doing that but its resources are limited and insufficient.

All the above is Valley and Ladakh centric besides some focus on the higher reaches and mountainous areas of the South Pir Panjal and Kishtwar areas. It would only be fair that initiative at quality governance in some areas of Jammu division is also addressed while setting pace. The plains and semi mountainous region of Jammu also needs a revamp in road infrastructure. Jammu city has some horrendous roads which also extend to other areas in the plains. A balanced approach in the initiation of early aspects of governance must be demonstrative and take into ambit all the above issues to send home a message of seriousness with conviction. Ms Mehbooba Mufti, the CM Designate and Dr Nirmal Singh, the Deputy CM designate must ensure that political pressures and compulsions are minimized in the settling down process while adopting adequate measures in positive messaging which is something the populace all over J&K is looking towards. This is also the time to make forays into the rural countryside to make contact with people; the lack of outreach to the public and the youth has been characteristically missing for long allowing anti-national elements to occupy that space

There will be enough time and scope for the Government, observers, analysts and well-wishers of the State to examine contentious issues such as AFSPA and come up with solutions by consent. The jostling for political space between the two partners should be placed on the backburner as both need to realize that for them it is a win-win situation with an opportunity to display maturity and promote national interest. Channels with the Kashmiri Pandits must be opened early and the issue of their return must be a subject of discussion without any political baggage attached to it. The Separatists must not be allowed to hijack this with their own agenda. ‘Stay the course’, should be the mantra irrespective of political snakes and scorpions that the Separatists will place in the way. A consultative approach to set the detailed agenda is almost a crying compulsion as without that the political shenanigans will dominate the narrative.

The Valley which is the focus of security concerns at present is well understood by Ms Mufti as she is one political leader who has never hesitated to go down to the ground. She has political savvy and is connected to the people. The BJP leadership in Jammu is mature and the party officials have more than a measure of the needs of the situation. If this combine has to make a success of governance it needs to start with a demonstrative intent about governance and development, relegating contentious issues for the moment, remain engaged on the same issues with intelligentsia and the people and do nothing in a hurry with respect to anything for gaining individual party space. There will be adequate time for that after the security situation is stabilized and hopefully the stage by then will be set for takeoff.


Published Date: 28th March 2016, Image Source: http://jammulinksnews.com
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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