No news is good news and particularly when we are speaking of Kashmir. And this has been so for several months now. But now like a recurrent nightmare, it is back on our radar with around 100 sarpanches resigning after the killing of one of them by militants. It is possible that many more may follow suit after militants have put up posters threatening them with dire consequences if they don't resign. This is a crushing reversal of fortunes for chief minister Omar Abdullah who had held pancha-yat elections in the state after nearly 30 years, giving a huge fillip to grassroots democracy. It was expected that militants would feel threatened by the upsurge of support for democratic processes and would try and disrupt things. And now they seem to have succeeded in creating such a fear psychosis that the CM is unable to stem the exit of sarpanches. In view of his perceived inability to offer them adequate protection, they have sought the help of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi.
The Kashmir interlocutors' report too had advocated much greater devolution of powers to the grassroots but now this process seems to have been subverted. It is a shame that administrative lapses in a period of relative calm have resulted in a vacuum which the militants have seized once again. There were several things which were going right in recent months. The main one was Pakistan's inability to fan the flames thanks to internal disturbances and pressure from the US.
In the light of all these, the Centre and the state government could have made several strides towards instilling some faith in the people that they have everything to gain from a stake in the Indian growth story and also assuring them of protection from militants. Kashmir has a disproportionate number of security forces and surely protecting the sarpanches should have been a priority. After the threats of violence against the sarpanches, the CM's challenge to militants that they should target him is meaningless. The CM has been guarded about the recommendations of the interlocutors. Though there was much criticism of the efforts of the interlocutors, they did meet a cross-section of people and have come out with some worthwhile recommendations about greater autonomy and devolution of powers among other things. The government should have acted on the report, or at least parts of it. But now a dangerous drift has set in once again. It is still not too late to act and stem this. The circumstances have never been so favourable as in recent times and the people never more hopeful of peace, howsoever tenuous.