Camouflaging under-performance

By dragging his coalition government into an overdrive on the issue of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, chief minister Omar Abdullah has virtually insulated it from performing its primary task of governance. Even earlier also, the government’s performance record was far below the average. But over the past two months it has only been talking ‘AFSPA, AFSPA and AFSPA’ and nothing else. The coalition leadership has carved a dubious identity of itself:

It does not act until it is pushed or pulled to do so. Delayed (partial) constitution of the State Accountability Commission (SAC) and the State Information Commission (SIC) are two glaring examples. And if ever the government has chosen to act on its own it has mostly been with disastrous results. The new recruitment policy is a case in the point. This thoughtless action has, however, had an unintended healthy consequence in that it has become one of those rarest of rare cases over which all the three regions find a common cause. Across-the-board bonding against the recruitment policy is a rare phenomenon. Judicial intervention, staying action on the thoughtless policy-decision can give only a brief respite.

Critics of the government who suspect that the chief minister had deliberately sparked the AFSPA controversy are beginning to sound logical. Omar’s oft-repeated commitment on empowering panchayats has been in the air for many months. Soon after the panchayat elections were out and the National Conference emerged badly bruised the chief minister lost his appetite for honouring his pledge. Foreseeable political controversy triggered over the AFSPA is being used as a convenient cover to deflect public attention from administrative inaction. State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has been without a head and the government does not seem to be unduly bothered. Not that this institution was delivering on expectations attached with its existence or that its occasional feeble recommendations were being honoured by the administration. But at least there was this fig leaf of its nominal existence amid a sea of rampant human rights violations. Now even that is not there and nobody’s conscience is pricked.

These few examples indicate the direction in which the coalition government has been moving. The first half of its 6-year tenure has failed to create any impact on the ground. That is also the assessment of the NC’s coalition partner.

Monitored evaluation is believed to have revealed serious shortcomings in the policy/decision-making process as well as within the implementation mechanism. The results on the ground fall far short of even the average comparable level. Two precious months have already been lost with nothing to show in return. AFSPA is now more deeply entrenched with its ultimate fate having been placed in the hands of the military establishment. The political acrobatics have, on the one hand, complicated the issue and, on the other, virtually immobilised the official apparatus. The state cabinet has not found sufficient time to discuss concrete issues of governance. The AFSPA row has also created glaring misalignment between the coalition partners, to put it mildly. Serious mutual differences over some of the key issues have tumbled out at various levels. Political mismatch between the NC and Congress claimed at least one high profile casualty—Dr Mustafa Kamal. Bitter feelings created in the process cannot dissipate so soon. Dissonance at the top is no longer deniable. These factors cumulatively paint a worrisome picture. Its inevitable adverse impact on the government’s performance is already beginning to show. Unless reversed in good time, it could as well trigger destabilising trends which this state can ill-afford now or at any other time.