Mr RG - This is not the Real Change

19 Jun, 2013    ·   4002

Shujaat Bukhari on the political challenges facing the UPA vis-a-vis Kashmir

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir

Nehru-Gandhi family heir apparent and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has credited the United Progressive Alliance government’s two terms with the “change in mood” in Kashmir. He has also dismissed Pakistan as a stakeholder in Kashmir, saying that whatever change has to be brought must come within. By all means Rahul Gandhi must be a well-informed political leader on Kashmir.

Not only his party leaders, the government at the centre has access to all the information and analysis dished out by various agencies in the establishment but also for the fact that it is part of the coalition in Jammu and Kashmir and he does not seem to have lost touch with his cadre in the state. There is no harm in taking credit for something good done by any government. But in case of Kashmir, credit comes with a huge price and whenever a political leader from Delhi visits Kashmir (in peace time) he gets swayed with a particular shade of interpretation of “normalcy”.

Kashmir has surely seen semblance of normalcy after three years of unrest that claimed nearly 200 innocent lives. But should it be declared as change in the mood and celebrated the way Rahul Gandhi prefers to? Here it seems that either the “future Prime Minister” of Congress is ill informed or he is trying to ignore the ground realities. For all practical purposes, this “change in the mood” is a relative term and depends on how one sees it. If he believes that a handful of people lined up to listen to him at a function, aimed at attracting youth for job opportunities, then he is grossly mistaken. People’s participation in public meetings (of mainstream) parties is no measuring stick for gauging the public mood. If it would have been the case, the elected MLA’s would not have faced the wrath of people in 2010 agitation.

No doubt employment opportunities and economic development is an important area which people do not want to abandon and that is perhaps the reason people have realized their stakes in peace. In 2011 and 2012, peace or the “change in the mood” as referred by RG was only possible because people wanted it but that did not alter their sentiments about the political resolution. While talking about the “mood” he missed an important point. He did not credit people with that change, if at all he felt it. In this context his Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde is better placed. When he visited Kashmir last year and drove in Lal Chowk, he too was happy to see this “change” but he credited people for the change, though it can be a misplaced feeling as well.

Unfortunately RG’s UPA has nothing to take credit of if we look at the mess they have created both on political as well as governance front in Jammu and Kashmir. Soon after the political unrest showed a decline in 2010, the UPA government appointed three interlocutors to reach out to the people. Much before they would embark on their “mission” those who challenge the Indian rule in Kashmir rejected them. And the mainstream too did not give much credence to them, though they had a compulsion to show obedience to their “masters” in Delhi. Even as Kashmiris had no hopes with the groups, they proved those correct who had no expectations with that exercise. Not only did the group show highest level of contempt towards the political aspirations of people by reducing it to the problem of “competitive victimhood” between the regions, the UPA government itself threw the report in the dustbin. This was the only exercise the UPA government initiated to address the problem; how come it could be credited with any such “change”.

Moreover, RG talked about devolution of powers and strengthening the institutions. Doesn’t he know that Jammu and Kashmir is neck deep in corruption and his party is part of the coalition. There are more allegations of corruption against his party’s ministers than those belonging to National Conference. Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is on record to have said that compulsion of coalition does not allow him to take on corruption. He was apparently referring to Congress ministers and his helplessness for not being able to take action.

One of his ministers is currently in dock for ordering a reshuffle of engineers in his department and there are many whose practices are very much known to public. His party has failed to address the political problem and has “gifted” the state with the most corrupt regime.

He also dismisses Pakistan as a stakeholder. “The way I look at it is that the real change has to come from within India. We cannot be dependent on what is going on in rest of the world,” Rahul told reporters in Budgam when asked about the impact of elections in Pakistan. Here too he brushes aside an important factor that has always put Kashmir on a burner. If he believes that Pakistan situation has nothing to do with Kashmir, then why does Government of India blame Pakistan for all the trouble and why so many summits and dialogues? He talks about the real change within but there is no will to act. One can understand that he does not have much role to address the larger political problem of Jammu and Kashmir but to save the institutions from demolition is very much within his domain.

Corruption has demolished the institutions in the state and his party is playing a dirty role in that. If he is really connected with the ground he should take a call on the issue of governance and not give hollow statements about the change which doesn’t exist on ground. People here are living with hopelessness as the accountability in the system is absent. When his ministers can stall the transfers of district Superintendents of Police at least four times in the cabinet, as they do not get the officers of their choice how can be merit upheld on the ground.

I had a chance to interact with RG as part of a civil society delegation in May. When he talked about the institution building, my colleagues and I highlighted the issue of corruption which has badly hit these institutions. He agreed with us and indicated that he was well aware about what his ministers were doing and that empowerment of people at grass root was being thwarted by vested interests.

We expected that he would be instrumental in bringing a “new change” but he unfortunately went with the “obsolete” one that is helping the political establishment to reap its harvest. Meanwhile, people continue to suffer. Mr Gandhi, there is no real change. It can only come when you understand the aspirations of people.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir