Early Warning and Peace Alert: Transforming Rajouri & Poonch in J&K

27 Feb, 2013    ·   3826

D Suba Chandran on measures to be adopted to strengthen the positive transformation in the two districts

In the last two years, there has been a substantial transformation in the twin districts of Rajouri and Poonch along the LoC in J&K. Keeping in line with the decline of militancy across J&K, the districts have also witnessed a substantial drop in violence. The local population seems to be convinced that the era of militancy and violence is over in the two districts. The security forces – military, para-military, and the J&K Police have worked hard to bring the situation under control.

Violence related to militancy has come down to zero in the two districts. There is a popular belief that things are looking up. In this regard, how does one consolidate the gains, and ensure peace prevails?

The State should not take the situation for granted and measure peace in terms of the absence of violence. True, militancy related violence has come down to zero in the two districts, and there is hardly any presence of military or para-military forces on the streets. The road opening parties (ROPs) and restriction in travel have come down drastically.

The State and civil society now have to work on the following four areas to convert the present situation into a positive peace – economic reconstruction, connectivity and tourism, better governance, and social harmony.

The process of economic reconstruction is already visible. One can also observe the economic presence and expansion of the middle class in these two districts. Construction of new houses, small shops along the major and minor roads, more vehicles on the streets, and the crowding of market areas highlight the flow of money in the two districts. Is every class benefitting from this economic growth, or is it restricted to the middle and upper middle classes?

Government schemes, individual entrepreneurship, and foreign remittances (especially in Mendhar and Surankote areas) have primarily lead to this economic growth. However, this growth is not widespread and does not cover every section; it is led by the middle and upper middle classes, and is presently limited to urban and semi-urban areas. True, Vodafone and Airtel have reached every corner of the two districts, with everyone having a mobile phone; but this should not be the only yardstick to measure peace and prosperity.

Lack of awareness and ignorance ensure that government schemes are used more by the middle and upper middle classes. Even today, there are many Gujjars in rural areas, who cannot get a community certificate reflecting their Scheduled Tribe status, owing to a general lack in awareness, and the level of corruption. Individual entrepreneurship also demands certain basic skills, capacity, and funding support – all these aspects are not yet present in every segment of society. Foreign remittances especially from the Gulf, as mentioned earlier, only benefit a small section of a particular community in Medhar and Surankote regions.

Though the government pervades throughout the two districts in terms of numerous institutions, what is missing is governance. Several developmental activities, especially in road construction, have been undertaken all over the two districts. However, the other departments and institutions are yet to make a visible impact at the ground level. In the state capitals and district headquarters, there are various schemes under different ministries and departments; though supported by substantial funds, these schemes are yet to be seen at the grassroots. There is a huge gap between what is available on paper in the district headquarters, and what actually gets materialised. This is not a question of just leakages; there is a complete disappearance!

Undoubtedly, the gap is being used by middlemen - a substantial section that benefits from this loot. The biggest responsibility for the State is to ensure that this loot gets reduced. Even more importantly, the State has to be seen as responsible and accountable in the minds of the people. The majority do not trust the State; rather the predominant belief is the State aids only a section and allows corruption to prevail, because the entire government machinery is a party to this.

The State will have to take measures to reduce the governance deficit, and also the trust deficit between the government and its people. While every department and sector needs to be activated, certain deserve special attention; education, health care, and rural development, being examples of this. Given the nature and extent of corruption, the J&K government and New Delhi may not be able to lead a revolution against corruption, but can at least make an earnest effort for clean governance in certain departments.

Besides the above sectors, the government has to ensure that the institution of panchayat raj becomes fully functional. Unfortunately, there is a resistance from the elected political leadership and bureaucracy to devolve power to the panchayat institutions; this has sent a wrong signal to both the people and institutions of grass root democracy.

After being embroiled for more than a decade with militancy and violence, today, there is an opening in the two districts. The State should seize this opportunity. If the State can ensure delivery in the above three sectors, along with ensuring effective panchayat raj institutions, it will go a long way in reducing the trust deficit between the governing and the governed.