Death of Kashmir's political centre?

As a new ultra right-led jingoistic religio-nationalism is slowly rolling its juggernaut into Kashmir; cynicism, disquiet and a sense of siege are palpable among its people. Consequently, there is a right wing political surge in Kashmir. Would Kashmir’s c

Jammu & Kashmir is at a critical juncture of its history today. Most of its people are faced with a situation of hopelessness, siege and even renewed anger. 

The hopelessness seems mainly to stem from the inability of Kashmir’s political centre – across its ideological divide – in overcoming division and mutual deceit. With the inability of the nationalist political centre in offering a suitable response to this situation, an increasing number of young Kashmiris are flocking to the extreme right. This appears to be a perfect recipe for the clash of extremes. And it is like a déjà vu of the carefully choreographed transformation in Palestine – that ultimately served to discredit its genuine nationalist political centre and made the discreditable ultra right take the centre stage. 

PDP’s positioning vis-a-vis the BJP is being perceived to have gone too far in recent months. There is hopelessness among its supporters for its flirting with some ideas that go beyond its vision of self rule and political dignity. 

Still reeling under the psychological trauma of the September floods, people in Kashmir had expectations of a serious economic revival kick starting, putting the state back on the track. Nothing of that sort has happened so far. 

Kashmiri Pandits’ dignified return to Kashmir is only a matter of time. However, the way PDP chose to become a party to the Hindutva ultra right wing agenda of geographical segregation of Kashmir on religious lines sounds it has become oblivious of its pre-election rhetoric too soon. It must have given due representation to Kashmiri Pandits in its government rather than sidelining them, only to make the Hindutva forces fill in that space. 

Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s pursuit of the idea of separate townships for Kashmiri Pandits in Kashmir reflected his government’s eagerness in pushing the Hindutva right wing agenda in Kashmir despite its impracticality. Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Syed erred when he was reported to have expressed his concurrence to the idea. Few were impressed when it was refuted. 

If the success of the PDP-BJP coalition is meant to be defined by what looks like a crude political quid pro quo then this is a relationship fraught with serious implications for the composite religious character of J&K state. 

It is possible that the BJP government in Delhi is linking post flood reconstruction grants, finance facilitation and tax transfers to PDP’s support in furthering the divisive Hindutva agenda in Kashmir. If that be the case, then PDP’s confidence in crafting a financial relationship with New Delhi that is driven by "constitutional guarantees" and tax disbursement principles stands into question. 

Today, the hopes of a turnaround in the quality of governance in Kashmir are fading. Government administrative systems look mired in the same inertia as they were before. Individual political and bureaucratic interventions still seem to prevail over systemic functioning in making things work. 

The people who had expected the PDP to deliver in holding the army and other security agencies accountable for their actions are growing increasingly sceptical. AFSPA repeal and transfer of NHPC-run power projects seem relics from the PDP’s electoral manifesto. The principles of engagement and cooperation that the two parties had committed to in their Agenda of Alliance seem to be faltering too soon. 

This situation is laced by a deep sense of siege too. Eight million people of Kashmir and Ladakh provinces are virtually cut off logistically from the rest of the world due to the mess of the Srinagar-Jammu Highway. The geographically isolated sub-regions of the Chenab and the Pirpanjal are facing death and agony due to the devastation of the roads they use to connect to Kashmir valley and the Jammu plains. Across these vast swathes of territories, movement of people and goods is terribly hampered. Growth prospects of business and commerce are catastrophically eroded. Despite all this, neither Delhi nor Srinagar seem to see easing this siege as a priority. 

The sense of siege isn’t only about logistics. The ultra right Hindutva agenda – seeking exclusion and de-citizenship of Muslims in India – is being openly articulated by the ruling BJP members and its allies like the Shiv Sena. This new assertive Hindutva juggernaut has unleashed a wave of disquiet, and even worry, among J&K’s Muslim population. 

As if all this was not enough, the new-age Tartarian judicial system – if at all there was one – now donned by India’s TV news industry is fuelling J&K Muslims’ sense of siege. The hysterical, juvenile, roadside brand of journalism is floundering all the prospects of Srinagar-New Delhi coexistence in a middle ground of moderation and safeguarded political identities. 
Then there is the anger factor. People seem to be fully abreast with how the BJP government in Delhi delayed – and even stonewalled – the prospects of Jhelum flood risk mitigation and post-flood reconstruction ideas since September. It is inconceivable that despite being fully aware of the disaster risks faced by J&K, especially by Kashmir valley and the mountainous territories, BJP government in Delhi showed no sense of urgency to address the immediate needs in future risk mitigation. 
When the PDP embraced the BJP to form a government in J&K, some of its presumptions are said to have been an "open minded" Delhi government that would be a willing partner in addressing the post flood needs in Kashmir. So far that willingness is hard to see. There seems to be little sense of urgency in understanding the flood impacts and addressing the needs. Post floods, almost all visits from BJP government ministers to Kashmir have been "security" centric. Ministers of Finance, Industries, Highways, Tourism and the like ministries haven’t considered on-site needs assessment in these sectors a necessity at all. 
The cumulative impact of all this is the crystallisation of the widely-held political belief in Kashmir that a political future for Kashmir that goes beyond the framework of political autonomy or self rule is the only solution to the Kashmir’s fundamental political question. And these are the same echoes that are resonating on the streets and the explicit social media articulations these days. 

All this has taken the sheen off the PDP’s self rule vision in a significant manner. From the party that had come to be seen as an alternative political force with a potential to carve out a dignified political position for J&K, PDP’s seems to be struggling in positioning itself. 

This situation has serious implications for the future of the state. A political centre in Kashmir, which includes the important JKLF, seems to be decimating in a systematic pattern. Parties like JKLF have serious limitations under the given circumstances. NC and PDP had a historical opportunity to join hands post elections and chart a new chapter in the state’s history. However, they remain deeply influenced by their history of deceit and betrayal. As such, Kashmir’s political centre remains immobilised in creating a political understanding that is based on forgiveness, honesty and the imperative of reviving Kashmir’s lost political centre. 

Consequently, this situation is also making a large number of people lose faith in electoral politics as a means to achieve politics objectives. 

Kashmir today faces a situation where its genuine political aspirations could flock to the right wing in representation and political expression. NC and PDP in their damaging political competition and affinity in engaging Delhi beyond the red lines are fuelling this surge. It remains to be seen if other centrist forces would overcome this surge to serve Kashmir’s political cause with prudence and efficacy. 

The columnist is a consultant in international development, working in Middle East and North Africa regions. Views expressed are personal. 

Disclaimer: The opinion expressed in this article is author’s own. GK does not take any responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this article. The information, facts or opinions appearing in this article in no way reflect the views of Greater Kashmir, and GK does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.