Kashmir: Yet Another Summer of Despair

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With the State’s economy in a mess, the flood victims yet not rehabilitated, healthcare in shambles, an unaccountable administration and a fast deteriorating security situation, the present coalition Govt has more on its hands than it can handle.

IT is not easy to feel hopeful and optimistic in Kashmir. It never was, especially in the last 25 years. Whenever things seem slightly better and begin to look up, darkness suddenly begins to descend from somewhere. It has become a land of mysteries where bad things lead to worse things. People wait for the cruel winter to get over, to get over their sense of claustrophobia and to begin their ritual bonding with the world outside. The moment the melancholy of the winter months begins to melt away, the devils resurface from nowhere to take the beautiful valley back to despair, darkness and back to winter. It is a fight that Kashmir has been witnessing over more than two decades, with the forces of darkness and despair often prevailing over the forces of hope.

Where does one begin to make sense of what has been happening in Kashmir this summer? One would think about three months back when the new PDP-BJP Govt assumed office. But that would not give us the proper perspective.  Perhaps the summer of 2008 would be a better starting point when the present ruling party PDP, pulled the plug from the coalition Govt that it was running with Congress party. Soon, not only Kashmir valley but the whole J&K State was pushed to the brink with agitations over Amarnath land row. Regional grievances have always been there between the valley and the Jammu region, but this agitation pushed the state to the brink with hostilities between the two regions reaching new heights. That agitation in the State was the precursor to the highly polarised and identity based politics that has now become the hallmark of the State. Among other things, it helped the BJP gain a strong foothold in the Jammu region. In the subsequent elections, BJP, for the first time, registered a strong performance in the urban pockets of Jammu province, while PDP could not better its 2002 performance, despite expecting better performance owing to the Amarnath controversy. That led to another coalition Govt, one between the National Conference and Congress. Omar Abdullah, the youngest scion of the Abdullah family, was sworn in as the new Chief Minister, with much fanfare. Young and articulate, much hope was riding on him. But he proved to be a disaster in the very first year of his Chief Ministership, when in the summer of 2009, two young ladies in Shopian were raped and brutally murdered. A botched up investigation lead to protests during that summer in which dozens of Kashmiris were killed by security forces. The new CM, who obviously seemed disconnected from reality, couldn’t handle the pressure. With the first year of ‘’Ragda’’ in Kashmir, all hopes about any turnaround during Omar’s tenure soon evaporated. The next summer in 2010 was even worse for Kashmir. After protests erupted in the valley following the death of a youngster in early 2010, at the hands of the police, the summer again turned into yet another season of blood and mayhem. The valley was painted red as more than 120 Kashmiri youngsters were killed in unrestrained acts of firing by security forces and police. Another summer in Kashmir had passed away without rekindling any signs of hope. In fact these summers turned out to be the precursor to the hopelessness that began to take root in the valley again. The subsequent years of the NC-Congress coalition didn’t witness bloodshed on this scale. In fact the number of tourists visiting the valley saw an exponential increase in the subsequent years, but the psyche in the valley remained bruised and battered. The Govt faced charges of corruption and nepotism and it was largely seen disconnected from the masses.

Then in Sep 2014, devastating floods struck many parts of the State with Srinagar being the worst hit. The Govt literally surrendered and for the entire duration of the floods, the hapless victims were left on their own. In the subsequent elections, the NC-Cong Govt was shown the door.

Owing to a fractured mandate, no party could form a Govt on its own. After many deliberations and negotiations, PDPD formed the new Govt in alliance with the BJP. To lessen the backlash of aligning with the BJP, PDP soon began to speak the ‘’development language’’. The alliance with BJP, which is the ruling party in India, would help revive the economy and put the State on the path of development, or so we were told by the PDP. The past three months have proved to be a complete antithesis to that. BJP, which is the smaller partner in the coalition, is calling all the shots. The regional fissures in the State’s politics are becoming more visible with BJP clearly trying to strengthen its electoral constituency, leaving a hapless and toothless PDP with hardly any room to manoeuvre.

Fear has again returned to the Kashmir valley. This time the theater of fear has shifted to the town of Sopore, where seven civilians have been killed in the last one month. It all began when a young man working in a BSNL Franchise in the town was killed by gunmen, who still remain untraced and unidentified. Soon a sense of fear spread which lead to the closure of telecom services in the town for a few days. The specter of death continued in the town which resulted in the death of six more men. So far the Govt hasn’t come up with any concrete answers to these killings nor has it apprehended any killers so far.

Not that failing to maintain security and a sense of safety and calm has been the only undoing of this present Govt. It seems to have continued where the previous Govt left in terms of misgovernance. Worse still, it has miserably failed to deliver on its electoral promises, most notably that of fiscal autonomy of the State. Though this Govt has been in office for just about four months, the writing on the wall is clear. This is not a coalition of equals. Politicians in our part of the world are known for their outlandish claims and promises.  PDP’s biggest electoral promise of reworking the terms of contracts with NHPC has been literally mocked at and scoffed by the BJP’s Central Govt. A delegation lead by the State Power Minister and accompanied by bureaucrats and Minister for Animal Husbandry, Sajjad Lone was left with an egg on its face when they met India’s Power Minister Piyush Goyal. News reports suggest that the delegation could not come up with any genuine arguments to push the State’s case against NHPC. It is either a case of incompetence or a even perhaps a case where the State does not have a valid argument to ask for the concessions and reworking of the agreements with NHPC. From what is available in public domain, the former case seems more plausible. For its part, NHPC says that it paid the State Govt Rs 600 crore last year as water charges in addition to the 12% royalty. Reworking the agreements with NHPC was the cornerstone of the PDP’s ‘’Fiscal autonomy’’ slogan. With the developments in the last week, any hopes of that seem to have been buried.    

With the State’s economy in a mess, the flood victims yet not rehabilitated, healthcare in shambles, a derailed education system, an unaccountable administration and a fast deteriorating security situation, the present coalition Govt has more on its hands than it can handle. For the common Kashmiri, this is turning out to be yet another summer of discontent, despair and missed opportunities. In Kashmir, the culture of privilege continues to breed corruption and a widening chasm between the rulers and the commoners. For Kashmir, it is more of the same. 

Politicians in our part of the world are known for their outlandish claims and promises.  PDP’s biggest electoral promise of reworking the terms of contracts with NHPC has been literally mocked at and scoffed by the BJP’s Central Govt. A delegation lead by the State Power Minister and accompanied by bureaucrats and Minister for Animal Husbandry, Sajjad Lone was left with an egg on its face when they met India’s Power Minister Piyush Goyal. News reports suggest that the delegation could not come up with any genuine arguments to push the State’s case against NHPC. It is either a case of incompetence or a even perhaps a case where the State does not have a valid argument to ask for the concessions and reworking of the agreements with NHPC.

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