Omar Abdullah 2.0 and Mehbooba Mufti 1.0: Bound to fail?

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The political uncertainty in the state of Jammu and Kashmir shows no sign of abating , at least, in the near future. What is, however, certain, is that the government vacuum will be filled one day and that there will be iteration of office and transfer(s) of power between the incumbents in the state-the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The question is: will these transfers of power make a difference to the state’s politics and governance?

Unlikely.

The reasons pertain to the nature of politics and government in Kashmir , the underlying power political structures, the macro political structures and conditions that obtain in the country, Centre State relations, and what I have referred to as  ‘ disembeddedness of the state from society’ in the Kashmir division of the state- all overlaid by the conflict in and over Kashmir. Cumulatively, these features and hallmarks of the state’s politics and government could very well mean that neither the paradigm of governance nor politics will ever change. This condition has implications and consequences for leaders of the two major parties of the state: Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti- the former the leader of the National Conference and the latter the People’s Democratic Party.

Politicians and even people in quotidian life operate in a context. The context in the state as I have pointed out is ossified, path dependent and inflexible. The conflict in and over Kashmir, for instance, will ensure that the operating and even conceptual field of mainstream politicians will always be circumscribed. That is, their room for maneuver is limited.  Moreover, the operating assumption of powers that be vis a vis the conflict is that of ‘containment’ and conflict management. This means that the state is content as long as the military and insurgency dimensions are contained up to a certain ‘ acceptable’ threshold’.

Then there are Centre State relations: a fraught arena where the state of Jammu and Kashmir is tied to the Centre through what is termed as ‘ asymmetric Federalism’- which , among other things means a differential relationship with the Centre than other states. This ‘assymmetric federalism’, however, has been drained of meaning over the years and thus stands eroded. Moreover, there are other forms of insalubrious leverage that the Centre can and has held over the state- finance and money, for instance.

All this has implications for mainstream politicians.

Their role is reduced to that of ‘managerialism’- managing  the government and governance aspects of the state. They are unable to go beyond this paradigm.  And their politics gets reduced to managing and disbursing patronage. This circumscribed role is consequentalist for the state’s politics; the conflict remains ‘frozen’; there , realistically, is no movement on this front except for rhetorical bombast by the political class either through manifestos of public utterances. Government remains hostage to its underlying inertia laden structures and governance corresponds to ‘more of the same’ thing.

Can this condition ever change?

Maybe.

However, ‘change’ would be contingent on the respective leaders of the two parties-Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti.  This change, in turn, would be predicated upon the approach that both take to politics, government and governance.  Dynamism and paradigm displacing leadership would be key here. Can Omar and Mehbooba be the leaders that displace paradigms in the state?

The answer, to use my favorite phrase, falls in the ‘ unknown unknown’.

Both Omar and Mehbooba are relatively young but have to contend with features described here and legacy issues. These, however, are the least problematic. What is key and probably even an issue is the respective personalities of the two.

Consider Omar first. A minimalist, introverted temperamentally and publicity shy, Omar’s overall comportment is perceived by people as insouciance. This may not be correct but perceptions matter. Omar, in government as Chief Minister of the state, either expected the world (people, party and government) to adjust to him rather than the converse or was too technocratic. (‘Technocracy is a mugs game in a complex world and society). This had obvious consequences.  Mehbooba is a gifted organizer but leading and building a party in the idiom of protest is different that governing. Mehbooba is an unknown quantity in terms of government and governance. Moreover, there are personality issues at work here too: Mehbooba is perceived to be volatile and mercurial- traits that are not always useful in politics.

Given these issues and ‘problems’, mainstream political leadership will neither be paradigm displacing nor a departure from the past. Both Omar and Mehbooba will be prisoners of the past paradigms and legacy issues. The poignant irony will be that whilst Omar and Mehbooba will alternate in office, governance and politics of the state will render them all too conventional and even too staid but the underlying reality of a Kashmir in transition will change. This , alas, will be the pedestrian and prosaic reality of politics, government and governance in Jammu and Kashmir which will be a two speed state with Jammu moving in one direction and Kashmir in an altogether different one.

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