Mufti Mohammed Sayeed: can he become an agent of change?
By Praful Bidwai
It is a cruel, painful, but fateful irony for the people of Jammu and Kashmir that the outcome of the state’s landmark assembly elections should instantly become vulnerable to the whims and fancies of narrow and manipulative politics.
The elections were not just J&K’s fairest and most credible since 1977. They were the first polls in 55 years which mandated a change of government — a process usually brought about by toppling, sacking and imposition of governor’s/president’s rule.
Yet, paradoxically, next Monday, the exit of the National Conference regime could well lead not to a popular, elected government, but to governor’s rule. What a horrific setback that would be for the cause of democracy, human rights, rule of law, and eventually, a dialogue leading to the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir problem!
No less ironically, the villains of this process could be the heroes, victors and gainers from the election itself. Critical among them are leaders in New Delhi —- which preens itself on having produced ‘proof’ of J&K’s ‘integration’ with India — as well as the Congress and People’s Democratic Party in J&K.
It is imperative that these leaders act with the utmost thoughtfulness, maturity, scrupulous respect for the popular mandate, and great wisdom if they are not to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by converting a virtuous cycle of disillusionment with violence, into a vicious cycle of cynicism, popular resentment, alienation and terrorist violence.
Going by my conversations in Srinagar over six days this week with a cross-section of opinion, the J&K electoral verdict is not a vote against azadi, or for New Delhi’s Kashmir policy, or ‘integration’ with the Indian ‘mainstream’. Rather, it overwhelmingly mandates a change of (a monumentally corrupt and unresponsive) administration, close attention to people’s day-to-day problems and relief from prolonged, unmitigated suffering.
Above all, it is a vote for the return of peace and for the ‘healing touch’ through repeal of draconian laws, restitution of human rights, and an unconditional dialogue with all shades of opinion in J&K. It is also a forceful rejection of the BJP-RSS’s communal parochialism with its trifurcation platform, and a vote for inter-regional harmony.
Yet, some of the winners of this mandate are attempting to reintroduce regional parochialism. With the Panthers’ Party, the main culprit here is the PDP (16 seats) which claims it must lead the new government because it alone represents the Valley, the ‘problem’ region — unlike the Congress (20 seats), whose leader, Ghulam Nabi Azad, is from Doda (Jammu region).
To most Kashmiris, this sounds less like an argument for the Valley’s centrality than a bizarre case of regional parochialism. Azad is a pucca Kashmiri-speaking Kashmiri; and Doda, everyone will tell you, is emotionally and politically integrated with the Valley, not Jammu. Besides, the PDP’s ‘mandate’ is moth-eaten in the context of the Valley’s 46 seats (and J&K’s 87). In plain truth, the J&K mandate is fractured.
However, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed won’t have any of this. If he remains adamant, he could be making another blunder — like in the Seventies and Eighties, when he wantonly and manipulatively plotted against and toppled elected governments, or in the early Nineties, when as Union home minister, he disastrously sent Jagmohan back as governor, and exchanged terrorists for his kidnapped daughter’s release.
There are no major programmatic differences between the PDP and Congress, despite their disparate origins: they agree on putting POTA on hold, disbanding the dreaded (surrendered militants) Special Operations Group, empowering the State Human Rights Commission, and starting a dialogue with all currents of J&K opinion. It would be unforgivable if the chief ministerial contest alone divides them.
The onus today is more on Mufti than anyone else. If he shows real leadership, he could become an agent of historic change — and Kashmir’s hero.
The Congress hasn’t covered itself with glory by hinting that it’s not averse to buying MLAs in case the PDP remains obstinate. It should categorically reject horse-trading, and offer the PDP a generous share of the cabinet.
The NC must resist the temptation to stake a claim even if rival combinations fail. The electorate has soundly rejected it. Its seats tally (now 28, earlier 57) would have shrunk further had the turnout not been abysmally low in urban Kashmir. Omar Abdullah will demonstrate statesmanship if he declares the NC will even accept a minority government.
That highlights Governor Saxena’s role. He has wisely given the parties time till October 21 to muster support. He is empowered under the J&K Constitution to convene the new assembly and explore government formation. Governor’s rule is not inevitable or mandatory. Saxena must accord the uppermost consideration to giving expression to the popular will, however divided. Formation of a minority government cannot be thwarted on technical-legal grounds.
All this demands an unusual level of moral balance, resilience and political wisdom from central and J&K leaders. But today’s situation is extraordinary and delicate. One false step, one cynical, venal move rooted in low-grade realpolitik or fraudulent ultra-’nationalism’, and a historic, unique opportunity will be lost.
If Kashmir bleeds, all of us Indians will lose. —The Hindustan Times