On 18 April 2017, Dr Ashok Bhan, Distinguished Fellow, IPCS; former Director General of Police, J&K; former Member, National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), delivered his remarks on the Lok Sabha By-Polls in Jammu and Kashmir, in the IPCS Conference Room.
The following is an overview of the remarks that were made during the course of the interaction.
'LOK SABHA BY-POLLS: READING JAMMU AND KASHMIR'
Dr Ashok Bhan
Distinguished Fellow, IPCS; former Director General of Police, J&K; former Member, National Security Advisory Board (NSAB)
The poor voter turnout in Srinagar PC, wide spread violence and the postponement of the Anantnag By-poll have presented a grim picture of the situation on ground. The electoral dividends achieved since the 1996 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls have severely been dented. The state witnessed successful elections in 1996 despite violence not being fully under control; the post-Kargil situation in 2002; in 2008, after the Amarnath land row; and in 2014, after the floods. The security situation and voter response (even from separatist strongholds) in the 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections took the peace process to a different level. Some separatist leaders even joined the electoral process. The poor turnout and postponement of the Anantnag by-poll have rolled back electoral confidence earned in democratic exercises.
The Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) entered into an Alliance with an agenda for engagement with different stakeholders; exploring limited demilitarisation; equitable development of different regions; development; and good governance. Despite serious reservations on the nature of the coalition, PDP voters gave a chance to the Mufti Mohammed Sayeed-led government to deliver on its promises.
However in the last two years, the state has witnessed an increase in instances of violence against security forces; fresh recruitment; spread of violence to rural areas; and the resumption of Pakistan’s support to separatists. Separatists who were feeling marginalised after the 2014 elections are now using the situation to their advantage.
There is a lack of progress on major issues mentioned in the 'Agenda of the Alliance'. The Agenda promised that an effort towards seeking national reconciliation on the issue will be made. However, a media created hype of hatred against Kashmiris; perceived "Majoritarian consolidation;" the approach of "benign neglect;" and a lack of political interventions have turned Kashmiris suspicious of the intent and sincerity of the government.
The issue of limited demilitarisation never came to the table and in the worsening security situation it has to be put on the backburner for now. Furthermore, excessive dependence on security forces has blunted their efficacy. Protests and violence have spread to rural areas, which has made it difficult for forces to enforce prohibitory orders. In the past four years (2013-16) the ratio between lives of security force personnel lost and terrorists killed stands at 1:2 as compared to 1:4 for the period between 1990 and 2017.
While recognising different positions of both parties on Article 370 of the Indian constitution, the Agenda of the Alliance promised that the present position will be maintained on all the constitutional provisions including special status. The coalition partner’s stand on Article 370 and rhetoric has caused friction and increased trust deficit between Jammu and Kashmir regions.
The PDP had hijacked the agenda of the separatists and their voters expected them to deliver on at least the agreed upon alliance agenda. In the absence of progress on major issues, the fringe element represented by pro-Pakistan separatists successfully enticed the disgruntled youth in the name of religion to come out on streets. Terrorist Commander Burhan Wani’s killing provided the trigger.
The coalition partners had resolved to catalyse reconciliation and confidence building within and across the line of control to ensure peace in the state. Pakistan’s continued support to terrorists and separatists did not allow any forward movement in this regard. India rightly insists on including "terrorism" as the core issue in bilateral parleys but Pakistan wants “Kashmir” to be on top of the list. Exposing Pakistan’s human rights record in Balochistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) was a welcome step but could not be sustained. The "Surgical Strikes" gave a strong message of intent of inflicting costs. The aim appears to make Pakistan irrelevant in Kashmir. It is time to introspect whether the policy has yielded desired benefits. Pakistan will remain relevant unless India resolves its internal problems and sets own house in order. Engagement with various stakeholders appears be a possible way to come out of the mess.
The development agenda could not have the desired impact due to the poor security situation during the summer of 2016. The promise of good governance and development, even if seriously pursued, will work as a slow healer to address alienation and radicalisation in Kashmir. The focus has to be on the political content in measures like engagement, strengthening democratic institutions and legislative measures to address regional imbalances. The poor voter turnout and violence during the by-polls is a display of widespread anger due to the failure of implementing the Agenda of the Alliance. Alternative policy options may emerge in answers to some of the following questions:
1. Can Security Forces/Police alone and in isolation be made responsible for restoring peace?
2. In search of peace, is implementing the Agenda of Alliance still relevant?
3. Despite contradictions, can the coalition redeem the deteriorating situation?
4. Do we need to revisit recommendations of various groups?
5. Has the approach of “benign neglect” helped India's cause in Kashmir? Do we require resorting to a policy of “aggressive engagement”?
6. Is it time to have a relook at handling Pakistan?
7. What is the aim? “Integration” of the state with the mainland or its “Assimilation?”
Most of the PDP constituents were not happy when the two parties formed the alliance. Still, they reconciled to the situation hoping that the Agenda of Alliance could move forward under the leadership of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. However, his untimely demise halted the progress on the Agenda. Various Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) took place during the PDP-Congress coalition government in 2002-05. Therefore, it is not wrong to hope that PDP could be able to assuage feelings of alienated Kashmiris.
Both the PDP and the BJP contested against each other during the 2014 elections. The alliance came as a surprise for the voters in the Valley. The Burhan Wani incident worked as a trigger and led to widespread violence across Kashmir. In the present situation, disgruntled youth appear to be on the rampage. The government needs to introspect in order to understand why the situation has gone out of control in the Valley. Similarly, it needs to find remedies and ways for peace to return instead of apportioning blame. Excessive use of security forces without sufficient political measures is unlikely to ease the situation.
The Agenda of the Alliance could not take off because of the political differences between the two coalition partners as well as people of the two regions. The 2008 Amarnath Land row created a divide between the Jammu and Kashmir regions. These differences played out in the 2014 election outcome. Therefore, the government needs to put in more efforts towards improving relations between the different regions. The elected government has to be allowed to bring peace back. It has taken a very long time and series of not-so-smooth electoral exercises to make incremental progress on bridging the democratic deficit.
Governor’s rule is an unpleasant step in the process of democratisation and must be imposed only as a last resort.
Rapporteured by Sarral Sharma, Researcher, IPCS.