Until My ‘Normalcy’ Has Come

Statehood to Kashmir, says Home Minister Amit Shah, will be restored when conditions return to normal. But who will decide what normalcy is?

HOME minister Amit Shah on Saturday said that  Jammu and Kashmir will get full statehood “as soon as the situation becomes normal.” Speaking at a virtual event where he released India’s First “District Good Governance Index”, Shah reiterated that Assembly polls in the Union Territory will be conducted after the process of delimitation is completed.

If we go by the sequence of the steps to be followed before the statehood is restored, the completion of the delimitation exercise would lead to the holding of the elections within the union territory framework. And statehood would be a third step in the process.  But this sequence is unacceptable to the major J&K parties including Congress. This time they are unhappy over the home minister conditioning the restoration of statehood to the situation in J&K becoming “normal.” The logical question that follows is who will decide Kashmir is normal now, as asked by the People’s Conference chief Sajad Lone.

But as for the centre, there is no change in its Kashmir policy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi led government is prioritizing the achievement of its ideological and strategic objectives in Kashmir before restoring the statehood. And the delimitation commission which seeks to reduce the political weightage of Kashmir Valley in the future Assembly assumes a profound significance in this context.

It will end up changing the political landscape of J&K like never before. It could very well pave the way for a future chief minister who is from Jammu, a longstanding political plank of the BJP. And once that is done, there is little guarantee that statehood would be the next logical step. Or whether the statehood to be granted would be full or a truncated one - one that resembles a Delhi-type arrangement where the real power remains vested with the governor. Such an arrangement would hardly be enough to make a redeeming difference to the existing state of affairs in J&K, as fundamentally there wouldn’t be much that would change on the ground.

An ideal arrangement from the centre’s point of view would be a government dominated by the BJP, whose chances following the delimitation of seats look brighter. Or, at least, a government of the party or parties which have reconciled to the loss of the autonomy as a fait accompli. And such a scenario looks very much possible. Over the last two years, the centre has successfully formed parties which if not directly toeing its line would dare also not question it. That is, as long as the BJP is in power at the centre.

Besides, the BJP has also been able to further splinter the political landscape of Kashmir. The last year has seen desertions from the parties like the PDP and National Conference into the Apni Party and the People’s Conference, more so, in the latter.

In theory, the influx of the leaders from the PDP and also from the National Conference has set up the People’s Conference as a stronger Kashmir-based party. And should Lone succeed in rallying North Kashmir around his party, it would transform the electoral landscape of the Valley. This would split up Kashmir among the three parties: the National Conference (NC), the PDP and the PC. That is, if we discount the chances of Apni Party led by Altaf Bukhari, which boasts of some leaders, most of them drawn from the PDP, who command some support in their respective constituencies.

The PDP has traditionally been dominant in South Kashmir and the NC in central Kashmir with Srinagar city as its core base. And now the north Kashmir where both the NC and the PDP won their seats is witnessing the emergence of the PC as a major player. Whether this new political reality also reflects in the seat tallies of these parties in the future assembly election remains to be seen.

But even if a Kashmir-based party were to form or lead a future government, it would have little maneuvering space to carry out its agenda or overturn the laws passed by the New Delhi backed administration over the last two and a half years.

Going forward, the situation looks very uncertain. It is unlikely that space for normal political activity will open up anytime soon. The centre is in no mood to engage with Kashmiri establishment parties after their meeting with the prime minister last year.  The harsh truth is that if at all, the centre will engage, it will do so on its terms and offer little accommodation to the demands of the major regional parties like the National Conference and the PDP. There is also little hope that these parties would be allowed to publicly raise their issues. They will have no option but to wait and watch and see if the evolving political scene in the country would open up some space for their political  re-assertion. As long as the BJP is in power, it is unlikely that the statehood would be restored. The logic is simple: that would deny the party direct control of the state of affairs in the region, something that the party is loath to part with.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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Riyaz Wani

Riyaz Wani is the Political Editor at Kashmir Observer

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