Misleading signals

Whether there is any truth or not in bits and pieces of information leaking out of New Delhi, so-called ‘package’ of the central government for Jammu and Kashmir appears to have been talked out much before it actually unfolds. For the past few weeks, there have been conflicting reports about what was there in the pipeline. Because of that confusion it is not possible to formulate a coherent view on the likely impact, or otherwise, of any such action plan. Primarily, this belated move of the government of India is in response to the ongoing political crisis in the state, particularly in Kashmir Valley. For the last over three months, the machinery of the state government has been totally paralysed. The administration and its authority exist in name only. Government’s inability to act beyond resort to brutal retaliatory force against unarmed civilians has exposed its hollowness in the face of what virtually is a mass revolt. That none of the mainstream parties, including the two ruling coalition partners, who together constitute the alleged ‘representative’ segment of the Valley’s public opinion, is able to exercise any kind of influence on the course of events on the ground speaks volumes about their impotence. Soon after the assembly elections in 2008 and the Lok Sabha polls last year, these very parties were gloating at what they believed to be their triumph. But here they are today, rendered numb and invisible. This should provide a cue to New Delhi that if and when there is really something being planned to address the situation in Kashmir it is going to work only if it is objectively conceived, sincerely implemented and taken to its logical end. Past experience makes a sad history. To cite just instance, the Prime Minister’s Round Table and its Working Groups were announced with fanfare. But the recommendations of these groups have been gathering dust. It seems that all that is being done now is to dust off these moth-eaten files and resurrect the scenario that has since lost relevance in the wake of the ongoing situation. That exercise was in response to what was the situation on the ground around that time. Much water has flowed down the Jhelum since then and old prescriptions are most likely to rebound rather than producing the desired result. Some of the burning issues can no longer be evaded without further annoying an already agitated public opinion in the Valley. For instance, it is no longer sufficient to partially lift AFSPA or release a handful of hundreds of political detenues. The draconian extra-constitutional provision that is being ruthlessly misused as licence to kill has to go lock, stock and barrel. Fake encounters coupled with brutal use of force to kill and maim peaceful protesters and wanton destruction of private property by hoodlums in uniform have created a situation which can only be rectified with total abrogation of the AFSPA from the entire state. Argument for retaining it, advanced by senior military officers, lacks conviction. On the one hand they claim credit for having eliminated militancy but on the other they insist upon being allowed to continue with their draconian powers. Culture of immunity from justice has degenerated into vested interest. Rule of law which is supposed to be among the basic planks of democratic order has been its worst casualty. Respect for judicial authority is unknown under the existing circumstances. Security and safety of human life as well as human dignity continue to be treated as expendable commodities. In which other state of the Democratic Republic of India can such a pathetic state of affairs be allowed to perpetuate and for so long? None, not even in the similarly placed north-eastern states. Response to the demand for abrogation of AFSPA made in Manipur finds a conciliatory response in New Delhi whereas the idea is frowned upon contemptuously whenever it emanates from the Valley.
Both the state and central governments have been talking about release of detenues for several weeks but actually their number has been mounting sharply with each passing day. Innocent young boys, political opponents of the government and professionals including lawyers, teachers and doctors are being pushed behind bars. Nothing short of total reversal of this attitude and such a policy is going to have any impact on the ground. Any package coming from New Delhi can deliver only if it indicates ushering of a new culture of governance. Arbitrariness, injustice and contempt for rule of law are the salient features of governance in J&K. The ruling regime in the state has reduced itself to only the public face of its Big Brother. In the Valley nobody today talks of how this government is performing or what it is doing. Its being or not being there has since ceased to make any difference to them. To salvage at least nominal existence of its local surrogate New Delhi would have to act more realistically than hitherto while putting across its ‘package’. Otherwise it would be yet another wasted effort.