Amit Shah’s Valley challenge: Avoiding unilateral forced constitutional measures
His doctrine will be a success when the majority of the people of J&K themselves realise that greater integration with India will provide them with more opportunities, provide more freedom and space, strengthen their rights much more than the dystopian dream of AzadiUpdated: Jul 08, 2019, 20:24 IST
In the summer of 2015, the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Mufti Mohammad Sayeed tasked me, as his adviser, to coordinate with Ram Madhav, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s general secretary for J&K, to organise a meeting with Kashmir Pandit (KP) leaders, primarily from the Sangh Parivar. It was intended as the first step in building trust that would eventually help in the dignified return of the Kashmiri Pandits. The chief minister spelt out his policy and vision to the KP leadership: “You do not need us. We need you. Aap aabad hain, jahan bhi hain (you have shown your mettle, wherever you have gone). But we, without the diversity you contributed to the Valley, without our syncretic culture, are the ones really exiled.” Mufti reiterated these ideas, in my presence, over breakfast with Rashtriya Swayamsangh Parivar’s sah sarkaryavah, Krishna Gopal. That meeting and those dreams faded with the passing away of Mufti and the manner in which his political legacy was frittered away.
The visit of the Union home minister Amit Shah to Srinagar and his intervention on J&K in the two Houses of Parliament has, counter-intuitively, rekindled those hopes. Shah explicitly expressed the Centre’s commitment to win over the hearts and the minds of the people of J&K through an inclusive vision. By giving a real stake in the stability, prosperity and future of the state; by providing honest governance and state-of-the-art infrastructure; by empowering the youth; and through a return to the traditional values that have defined Kashmiriyat: a unique blend of Shavism with Sufi thought. Shah could have even done better and quoted from the mystical 14th century poet, Lal Ded: Shiv chu thal thal rozana, mozan hund tu muslmaan (Shiva is like the sun; his radiance makes no distinction between Hindus and Muslims).
What is also unequivocally clear is that J&K is on top of Shah’s agenda , and that it will finally receive the attention that it deserves without the shoddiness of the bureaucratic confusion that has traditionally mired the Centre’s engagement with the state. As arguably the most powerful home minister since Sardar Patel, Shah will, at the very least, ensure that imperious bureaucrats, with imperial ambitions but with the mindset of section officers, do not prevail.
In substance, Amit Shah has quickly discovered that J&K is fundamentally about politics, and where the personal is and has been the political long before social scientists discovered this rather mundane reality. And that bad politics has consistently been allowed to overwhelm good politics.
Shorn of ideological frills, New Delhi has historically incentivised bad behaviour and the attendant spillover in terms of misgovernance. This has to be addressed not just at the fringes; but the very core of a rotten system has to be targeted where a few families have usurped power and economic benefits; not just in Kashmir but in Jammu as well.
In essence, the Shah doctrine has six elements. First, no compromise with terrorism and extremism and anyone who preaches violence or is a party to it. Second, end to the politics of entitlement; be it politicians or newspapers or bureaucrats who were kept in good humour on the basis of some chimera-like national interest.
Third, enrich and strengthen democracy by ensuring free and fair elections, at every level, and by decentralising power to the grassroots.
Fourth, fast track development to create institutions of academic and extra curricular excellence and to generate skilled employment in a manner that the youth are gainfully employed and weaned away from radical thought.
Fifth, create a better regional balance to ensure that the feeling of discrimination in Jammu and Ladakh is stemmed. Simultaneously, to create the conditions for the return with dignity and honour of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley.
Finally, implicitly, dialogue with anyone willing to abjure violence and willing to enter into a meaningful trust building process for sustainable peace in the state. Note that there was no hartal called by separatists during the home minister’s visit and the leader of every ideological hue is now volunteering for a dialogue. Even infiltration from Pakistan was at its lowest with few cease fire violations.
All this will not be easy and will test Shah’s skills, political will and the Centre’s commitment . Kashmir is not for nothing considered a graveyard of reputations. And the real test of the Shah doctrine will be in the inclusiveness of the participation in the forthcoming assembly elections. Most importantly, Shah’s greatest challenge is that aspects of J&K’s problems are addressed not through unilaterally forced constitutional measures, but when the majority of the people of J&K themselves realise that greater integration with the mainland will provide them with more opportunities, provide more freedom and space and strengthen their rights much more than the dystopian dream of azadi.
Amitabh Mattoo is author, most recently, of Empowering Youth of Jammu & Kashmir: Education, Engagement and Employability
The views expressed are personal