If you were to ask me to describe the way the Omar Abdullah government functions in one phrase, I would say ‘spectacular inaction’.
And I am sure that many would agree with me though they may use different words. I can remember a time when many genuinely thought that a young and non-cynical chief minister would be the change that Kashmir so badly needed. Now, they have realised that they were wrong.
In recent times, Abdullah has confounded both well-wishers and critics with his sudden reversal of statements. When our soldiers were fighting to keep out infiltrators, or non-state actors or whatever Pakistan calls the murderers it pushes into Indian territory before the snows make it impossible, Abdullah dismissed the whole Operation Keran as media hype.
Now I know that the media can be accused of being over the top on many occasions, but it has yet to cook up an entire army operation of such magnitude.
A few days later, the chief minister was busy telling us that it is not enough to just tell Pakistan off, we need to go further. From which I can only assume that he means we must go across the border and beat the beejesus out of our Pakistani brethren. But, what really concerns me is the mood in the Valley. When Abdullah took over, the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani and his separatist rhetoric were losing their grip over the youth of the Valley.
In fact, all the separatists were desperately trying to prove their relevance by espousing Pakistan openly and trying to have a gathering of the old boys’ club on the Pakistani high commission grounds in Delhi.
Now things have changed for the worse.
After the stone-pelting in 2010, things have never really quietened down. We may dismiss the stone-pelters as the perpetually aggrieved youth. But today, we see crowds gathering to listen to Geelani and his separatist rhetoric with a fervour we have not witnessed in a long time. The state government seems to watch in paralysed fascination from the sidelines.
From time to time, Abdullah gets into a lather about the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (Afspa) and asks that it be repealed. He may have a point but then he retreats into a shell and more often than not we see that he has popped up in Delhi at some do or the other.
Now we see the spectacle of sarpanches openly criticising him. And in turn, he seems to have done very little for these people who are directly in the line of fire of the militants. It is futile to imagine that Pakistan will have a change of heart and do away with its proxy war in Kashmir. So, what we need to do is to keep our powder dry and make all efforts to draw people from the state into the mainstream.
Instead of doing inexplicable things like releasing Geelani from house arrest only to have him spew venom against India, Abdullah should be burning up the rubber impressing upon people that the only reason why people like Geelani can walk about criticising India is because this is a democratic country.
In Pakistan, if Geelani had criticised the ISI or army, he would find himself in some hole in Waziristan with one meal in 10 days.
The CM and his ministers and MLAs should be on the move highlighting how much better it is to be part of the Indian growth story than the Pakistani jihadi story. But, Omar Abdullah has been a study in inaction.
Now, he is under attack from both the opposition PDP and the Congress with whom he is in alliance at the Centre. Doesn’t say much about his political acumen, does it?
I have always felt that governments in Kashmir have overestimated the power of the separatists. They could not drum up the votes needed to join the electoral process. So they ask the people to boycott the elections and talk about a mythical better life in Pakistan. If Geelani believes what he says, he should be taking the first flight out to Lahore.
This newspaper has said it before; a good starting point would perhaps be the report of the three independent interlocutors on Kashmir. They did not advocate anything drastic, but more devolution of power to the state and perhaps a relook at Afspa, among other things. What Kashmir needs is for Kashmiris to develop more of a stake in Kashmir. The state needs more jobs, not more dole.
It needs more emotional and financial investment from the Centre. It needs to be told how different and free life is in India with all its warts when compared to Pakistan. It needs to be told of the abjectly miserable conditions in Pakistan’s part of Kashmir.
Abdullah can still pull back from the precipice. He needs to undertake a massive public relations exercise backed by appropriate sops for want of a better word. His policy of inaction has just made things worse and there is no comfort in saying that tourists are trickling back or that Zubin Mehta’s Beethoven symphony rang majestically over the Dal Lake.
Omar Abdullah has to dig in for the long haul. It may be painful, it may be disheartening, but that is what he was elected to do. Not be a bystander as Geelani and his ilk spread their vicious poison.