Chief Minister Omar Abdullah has lost control of his state. The question now is whether he can recover it. Unfortunately, going by the facts on the ground that have culminated in the deployment of the Indian Army as a “deterrent” to enforce peace and order around, if not in Srinagar, for the first time since at least 15 years, it doesn’t even seem that Mr Abdullah is too keen to wrest control. His knee-jerk reaction has been to pass the buck to the Centre, the traditional manoeuvre for Jammu and Kashmir chief ministers, by blaming the Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) for ‘losing control’ and by talking of New Delhi’s supposed desire to maintain a stranglehold on Kashmiri politics by shying away from any ‘internal dialogue’ involving all parties embroiled in the mess.
But the fact that Mr Abdullah, in the last 18 months since he became chief minister, has behaved solely as a National Conference leader — as opposed to a Jammu and Kashmir chief minister — has been exposed by the fact that even in flashpoints such as the Shopian murders and Amarnath land issues, he has first gauged the political repercussions of handling them and then the needs pertaining to governance and administration.
The Cabinet Committee on Security that met in Delhi to deal with the spiralling Kashmir crisis rightly decided to ‘let’ the state administration take control of the situation. Letting the army out on the streets of Srinagar is an invitation to be left holding the can when New Delhi is quite vociferously trying to make the J&K government do its mandated job: to govern Kashmir. Mr Abdullah has also failed to take advantage of the situation when he won the 2009 assembly elections of building trust between Srinagar and Kashmiris. A moot case has been the disinterest in firming up the J&K Police force as an ‘independent’ security unit not perceived as falling into line whenever Delhi blows the whistle. When a chief minister talks about the need to lift the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act one day and then states the next day that the time isn’t ready to lift it, one is not only left wondering what he really has in mind but also whether he has any intention of taking control as the chief minister of a beleaguered state that needs a firm hand and not a display of reactionary Centre-state politics. Much more than protection via the Indian Army, what Kashmir really needs is protection via its own state government, and dare we say from it.