OPINION

Government formation in JK 

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Let’s hope for better tidings in store!

By: Naima Shafi

Almost two months into the parting of ways of the Jammu and Kashmir government there is still no clear sign of the situation taking a discernible turn towards government formation. In recent days there has been a flurry of activity including the visit of ruling Party’s interlocutor, Ram Madhav to Kashmir, nothing however seems certain. While the previous government was deeply resented due to blatant display of Nepotism, gross mis-governance and corruption a fact made evident by the wide-spread jubilation through fire crackers and distribution of sweets across the state after its dismissal, there however needs to be an immediate redress to the looming uncertainty in the region. Not just because generally a democratic system needs to resume, but also because this is a strategically important border state already in the grip of violence and conflict. However as ironic as it seems since the dismissal of the previous government and the imposition of Governor Rule the state has actually seen an upswing in the situation with lesser incidents of violence and disturbances. There is also a popular level of trust and confidence within the interim set up. Something which may accrue from the personal charisma and credentials of the incumbent Governor himself, Yet raises glaring question marks on the functioning of the previous government and its leadership.

At a crucial juncture Jammu and Kashmir needs a break – and a drastic one, from its prevalent structures and nature of governance and the initiation of a new social contract and political construct. Enough of experimentation, J&K needs the opportunity to throw up natural and able leaders well entrenched within the intricacies of its grass root realities. It needs leadership that has made its own way up the hierarchy, slogged it out along with its people and realises that’s it is with these very people that its accountability lies. A leadership that has experienced the rigour of grass roots grooming and is receptive to grass roots aspirations.

J&K being a unique state gripped in conflict for the past three decades also needs a leadership that can be its bridge to the centres of power that matter. The most important being New Delhi. It needs both the trust of its people and the confidence of national leadership to be able to deliver a workable, sustainable and win-win situation for all. This however entails a internalisation that national interests remain paramount and that this critical role does not  reduce to manipulating certain “nuisance value” for selfish stakes and against the larger interest of the people, as has been experienced in the past adding to the further securitization of the state.

Recently a lot of speculation has been built around a possible “third front”. A amalgamation of disgruntled MLA’s from various parties alienated by the diktat of familial coteries focusing on familial corruption. The concept of internal democracy is unfortunately all too lost on the political practitioners in Kashmir as elsewhere in South Asia. A name that is constantly emerging as a possible figurehead of the “Third Front” is Sajad Lone, the maverick Chairman of People’s Conference and a Minister in the previous set up. He entered the 2014 Election fray as a wild card upsetting the otherwise calibrated electoral applecart with his open and at that time very courageous meeting with Prime Minister Modi. This meeting provided Sajad a level playing field in the face of the “establishments” weight and resources both political and financial behind the PDP. A tacit agreement with the BJP had already been worked out which was proven in the instant knee jerk offer of government formation with the BJP immediately after the election result. It needed somebody with the courage and transparency of Sajad Lone to openly meet with PM Modi before elections – something lesser men could never attempt as proven by the immediate post-election PDP-BJP stitch up. A mandate that was completely whipped up on the narrative of keeping BJP out of power in Kashmir was brazenly abused and belittled by working out an expedient alliance with the very same BJP in the first instance. There never was before such a blatant and shameless betrayal. So all the present clamour of “violation of people’s mandate” has no grounds as the violation was started by its keepers itself.

But then transparency and deliverance never have been the hallmark of any administration in Kashmir. Built on the edifice of patronage and “indispensability” the “mechanisms of management” have outrun their course in Kashmir in the process fattening few Surnames and their kith yet weakening state Institutions, trust of the people and the credibility of New Delhi. And that’s exactly why this politics of entitlement needs to end. There needs to be a more transparent, rigorous and robust mechanism of politics in place something which is truly representative of the people’s will. One dynasty “created” to undermine the other will not and evidently has not worked. It’s ironic that the pdp today decries the third front as cobbled together by New Delhi (which by the way it’s not – maybe some soul searching on its part, introspection and self-accountability will help for its future party re-structuring) is that because that’s exactly how its own patch work of a party came into being? While diversification of the political landscape is welcome but not with misplaced intentions and objectives to evolve fresh yet additionally stifling networks of patronage and parochial interests.

The first entrant to gate crash this “Musical chairs” of a patronage vested political horizon was Sajad Lone, hence the threat perception from the start. The immediate instinct was to sideline nay belittle him right at the outset and probably get rid of him through a resignation if possible. Hence a seemingly “beneath par” Ministry of Animal husbandry. After initial hesitation, Sajad Lone, true to his instincts took it up as a challenge. Drafting an entire Vision Document on self-reliance through a community based network of co-operatives he envisioned a White Revolution (Milk) and not just self-reliance but export to other states of value-added mutton products. Based within the framework of PPP (Public-private Partnership) which ensued a win-win situation for both producers and consumers alike. Having secured a major earmarking of funding from the centre, Lone’s ministry unfortunately changed. The draft vision document can still be looked up at the Ministry even today. His project of “Heathcare Insurance” again within the purview of PPP was another of his pet projects envisaging a healthcare insurance for every citizen of the state especially its most marginalised citizens, allowing for a cap of 5 lacs to cover health costs for each citizen. Unfortunately, “insecurity” got the best of it and it was clipped within the dusty corridors of state bureaucracy even before it could take off. A similar project rolled out by Imran Khan’s PTI in the PKP province in Pakistan has won International accolades – No wonder section of PDP’s hue n cry over SajadLone’s constant comparisons with the charismatic Imran Khan and his vision of egalitarian empowerment.

Almost two years into his just concluded portfolios and Lone delivered on many counts, just a glimpse into what he’s capable of. Some of the projects that were rolled out were: hydro- power projects in Kupwara (3.75 MW commissioned, 21 MW in pipeline), Bio-Technology Park in Kupwara – project K-5000 with IIIM – Kolkatta, Replacing Boarding Schools instead of Orphanages (Charity to Rights), Old age pension raised from Rs 200 to Rs 1000, 6% reservation for the poorest of the poor (first of its kind in the region),Under construction 200 Bed super-speciality Hospital and Research Centre at Handwara, Solar Farming 6MW commissioned and 12 MW in pipeline, establishment of Renewable Energy corporation, sanctioning of 90,000 rooftop solar lights and 20,000 street lights (Kupwara), 3% reservation for Pahari’s, Implementation of Initiatives such as Implementation of JJ ( Juvenile Justice) Act, creation of CSR (Corporate social responsibility) Hub, Roll out of ICPS ( Integrated Child protection scheme), getting District Kupwara placed within 115 “Aspirational Districts programme” from all over India. His major project being the development of the Bungus Valley Project envisaged to open floodgates of development and socio-political upliftment for the entire adjacent area.

But why make the switch? The “ignominious” cross over – why not? Wouldn’t it have been easier for him to just stay back, continue fattening on the trappings of the “all play, no work” perks of the Hurriyat, enjoying a paid for all unparalleled lifestyle. There never could have been a more sinister “free lunch”. But there were problems. For one he was too independent minded and academic to be pinned down by the diktats of which his heart never agreed to. Also, soon he realised the constricted space of this genre of politics where again while a few purse strings expanded there was no trickle down to the common people. He recalled his father’s words “Politics can either be the biggest dacoity or the most sacred of Ibadah (Prayers)”. He chose the latter. One could question his decisions but not his conviction. He actually felt he would be more empowered on this side to be in a position in turn to empower others. And that’s what he has attempted.

A scrupulously honest minister he has toiled hard to reach where he is today – touted by Outlook India as a “threat to the Mufti’s and Abdullahs”. Transparency and deliverance have been key components of his political playbook. Despite a revered father he had to carve his political path from scratch. He slogged it out on his own, braved hard times – penniless, powerless, hopeless. One thing that kept him going though were his people, their support and their belief in him. Something that continues to be the pillar of his vision and drive. He has lived “with” them, lived “as” them and continues to re-invent himself receptive to “their” aspirations. Conveniently painted as part of the “dynastic” bandwagon by a few, an important distinction is that he was not “crowned” the Position as “heir apparent” but had to earn it. A case in point being the fact that his sister had to face defeat in an electoral attempt from Kupwara in 2008. Were it just the surname she would’ve won the seat. While she goes on to blame Sajad Lone for engineering her defeat but that in itself is a validation of the fact that Sajad Lone held sway and not just because of his surname but his sheer grit, hard work and dedication. While criticised for much there is no denying SajadLone’s capability, lack of hypocrisy and the will and hunger to want to deliver – attributes not many on Kashmir’s political horizon across the board can boast.

Meanwhile, on a back-foot by the unexpected turn of events the PDP is just about recovering from the initial shock. From trying to open desperate channels of communication with its old allies in New Delhi to public displays of Political signalling such as abstaining from elections for the deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha, it is trying every trick in town to woo back its old partner. It is also taking recourse to confusion and mis-information through planted stories and rumours. Desperate last SOS of a sinking ship.

Let’s hope there are better tidings in store for J&K. In these critical times it needs a sage, up-front and courageous leadership. Somebody having both the ability and more importantly will to deliver. A breath of fresh air not the tried, tested, failed and somewhat stale old wine.

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