Floods in J&K: Hatred, Alienation and Relief Measures

19 Sep, 2014    ·   4667

Dr Ashok Bhan recommends to avoid politicizing the rehabilitation and rescue operations

Ashok Bhan
Ashok Bhan
Distinguished Fellow
The visit to India of Chinese President Xi Jinping has provided the Indian media with a God sent opportunity to wriggle out of an erroneous belief that the flood rescue and relief in Jammu and Kashmir can be made into a turning point in conflict resolution. Indian Armed forces and NDRF must get full marks for a selfless service to their brethren in distress. They did it as part of their duty and their commitment. They did it because Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and every citizen of India is entitled to these services of the State. As one Commanding officer candidly remarked in an interview, “we are here to do a job and as long as people need us we will continue to do it”. It is as simple as that. 
The rescuers had no political agenda. The media tried to fish in troubled waters in trying to make Kashmiris believe that the Indian security forces were their only hope and they needed to be grateful to them. This as expected proved counterproductive. The flood devastated valley did not need these lessons in their hour of grief and colossal loss of life and property. It has in no way helped the cause of the nation.
The shallowness of  understanding of the problem; level of alienation and hatred was evident in eminent anchors making panelists to commit that the rescue and relief will be a turning point for Jammu and Kashmir. The absence of separatists in relief operations found unnecessarily wide coverage. In support of the rescuers no opportunity was lost to put in dock those demanding withdrawal of AFSPA. An inconsequential Yasin Malik incident was blown out of proportions. And then the debate on Art 370 has begun again even while flood waters are yet to recede and danger of an epidemic looms large. 
The media overkill by dramatizing the rescue operations brought a sharp reaction symbolized by a banner outside Jamia Masjid, “We don’t need Indian rescue and relief. Stop drama of helicopters”. It was never a secret that anti- India (and thereby the anti- Indian Army) sentiments surface whenever separatists are criticized or cornered as they wield some influence in Srinagar and a few other pockets.
No doubt the promptness of rescue and relief and quality of rehabilitation now onwards will leave an indelible mark on the minds of beneficiaries in the State. The contribution of Governments in the Centre and the State and the Armed Forces will not go unnoticed. People of Kashmir have an uncanny sense of understanding who helped and who failed them in their hour of crisis. They also realize what is good for them. But such disaster mitigation efforts are slow healers of the wounds of a prolonged conflict. Their healing strength further diminishes when conditions and costs are attached to such humanitarian work. The point that is being made is that linking disaster mitigation effort with the broader issue of resolution of the conflict is a mistake. These two must run simultaneously but as strong parallel efforts.  
Jammu and Kashmir will bounce back to normalcy again. The question being floated is whether hatred will get washed away by the receding flood waters. Unfortunately, hatred and alienation don’t dissolve in flood waters or in the disaster mitigation effort howsoever exemplary it may be. It will need a handful of “political salt” combined with some “acid of reason”. That provides a lot of work for both sides – the Government as well as the people of the State in coming weeks and months. 
Holding of a credible Assembly Elections as early as possible will be a strong positive in the rehabilitation effort as well as resumption of the peace process. Let people of the State chose their representatives without an unduly long interregnum. That will enable the Central Government to sit with elected representatives to effectively implement the rehabilitation plans and also work towards conflict resolution. The temptation of carrying out the entire rehabilitation by the Central Government through a prolonged Central rule will be counterproductive. The people’s representatives and the State administration need to be made more accountable rather than usurping their legitimate role by handling everything from New Delhi. 
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has hit the nail on the head when she said there can be no full stops in diplomacy. Pakistan has been adequately cautioned that India sees their overt and covert contacts with separatists as an unfriendly act. There is also no doubt that Pakistan will not allow a peaceful Assembly poll and will use every opportunity to foment trouble. That would need increased vigil and preparedness on the part of security forces. But that must not stop breaking the deadlock and resuming talks with Pakistan. 
The separatists must also understand that their preference for contacts with Islamabad and refusal to talk to New Delhi will harden attitudes against them and their cause in the rest of India. In view of their limited political following and opinion building against them they may find themselves irrelevant for six long years after the Assembly elections.