General Mess Not surprising that Kashmir is at the centre of it

J&K is at the centre of the political storm brewing over an Army probe charging former Army Chief General V K Singh of trying to topple the J&K Government and paying off a local NGO to tamper with the line of succession in Army. The probe has lent credence to what has always been believed to be true in the state: the excessive management role of the centre and its various agencies in the affairs of the state. There are grounds to believe that unlike in any other states of India, various central agencies feel an extra sense of authority when it comes to their activities in the state.

There has been a context to this meddling. The unique historical situation of the state and the consequent paranoia in New Delhi about even the routine political developments in the state is something that is exploited by various federal institutions to gain an undue say in the functioning of the state. And this often includes even overriding the decisions of the otherwise glorified democratically elected state governments.

Often this has led to the competing views of the national interest on issues impinging directly upon the well being of the state. And sometimes, it has resulted in avoidable confrontations as was the case over the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s pro-active bid to revoke Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the middle of his tenure. The army then under General V K Singh vociferously opposed the move. Singh’s retirement has made little difference. Under General Bikram Singh, the army continues to tow the same policy, despite the fact that fewer than around hundred active militants roam the state’s landscape and J&K Police handles the two-third of militancy-related violence.

What is more, this sense that the J&K government can somehow be easily trifled with bugged at one point of time even the state’s self-created institution Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. During the previous J&K Governor S K Sinha’s tenure, the then PDP-led coalition was actually at loggerheads with the board over the latter’s push to operate autonomously of the state government control. And we all know how this confrontation set in motion a chain of events which culminated in the three-month long strife in 2008 leading to death of around 60 youth, most of them teenagers,  setting off also Jammu, Srinagar face-off with its attendant communal polarization.

Such arbitrary and sometimes wilful re-imagination of their defined roles in Kashmir by various agencies is barely questioned – couched as it is under the rubric of the battle to save Kashmir for India. But the toll this intrusion has taken on the democratic set up in the state is grievous. For one, it distorts the democratic mandate in the state: the elected chief minister turns out to be the weakest among the parallel power centres ruling the state: the security establishment and New Delhi.  In his tenure as governor,  S K Sinha had successfully established himself as a viable centre of power in his own right.

This is a reality that has always undercut the credibility of the mainstream leaders in the state. More often than not they are perceived to be working at the pleasure of the centre rather than guided by the sentiments and expectations of their constituencies. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah captured this embarrassing situation well when in March he broke down in Assembly over the killing of a youth in Baramulla by army. “ All I can ask for  is justice.. There is no magic in this chair. Those who occupy this chair know that everything is not under our control,” Omar said in his speech. And in doing so, Omar underlined the grim reality of the so called democracy in the state.

Would expose of General  V K Singh’s exploits make any redeeming difference? It is unlikely. For the expose, as is obvious, is directed specifically at the former army chief who may have gone a step further and operated too independently on the state for the comfort of central government. J&K is incidental to it. But if at all it does cause some rethink in the centre about the enhanced interpretations some of its agencies make of their role in the state, it will certainly help institute some urgent correctives in the power structure in J&K, a move which in many ways will be therapeutic for the prevailing state of affairs in the state