‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ — this quote from Charles Dickens by Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah is not exactly brimming with optimism as the year begins. And rightly so. The fragile peace in the Valley has been shattered once again with the killing of an 18-year-old student who was caught in the crossfire as the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) was trying to disperse a crowd protesting against the lack of electricity at Boniyar. But literary quotations don’t make up for the spectacular inaction by the young chief minister who has been in power for three years now. Advertisements about his many achievements are not validated on the ground as a restive population seems to grow more disenchanted with him.
There is no doubt that he is well-meaning, but there has been a curious administrative and political lethargy during his tenure so far. That the opposition has been uniformly negative and carping has also not helped at all. The report of the three interlocutors was submitted in October 2011 and while it has not been made public yet, many of its recommendations are known. This was a semi-independent initiative which could have been acted upon. Some of the suggestions made in it include meaningful autonomy, speedy development, a massive economic package and a review of the contentious Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa). Mr Abdullah himself recently spoke of the need to lift Afspa in some parts of the state, echoing what he had said last October. But nothing has been done so far. The CISF does not come under Afspa so at least five people have been quickly arrested in the killing of the student. It is also indicative of colossal apathy on the part of the state government that people were protesting against the lack of power even as the Kashmir winter intensifies. Mr Abdullah has considerable backing from the Centre but he has not lived up to the expectations of him. He has not been able to carry his own partymen with him, especially in the case of the interlocutors’ report which many of them have rejected. While a political solution may take a while to come, Mr Abdullah could at least kickstart the development process to make life easier for the ordinary Kashmiri. It is a pity that the army has been more active on the development front than the elected government. This is not a desirable turn of events and something which Mr Abdullah should take note of. If he really wants to lift Afspa in select areas, surely he can bring the Centre around to his point of view. The disconnect between Mr Abdullah and the people is being more keenly felt by the day. If he is able to ensure justice for the murdered student speedily, he could build on this. Perhaps, then we will see a bit more of the ‘best of times.’