Is everything really normal in Jammu and Kashmir?

 25 Sep 2020

The Home Minister assured the Rajya Sabha, 3 months before, that “normalcy” had been restored in Jammu and Kashmir. Yet, 3 main leaders of the Jammu and Kashmir- Omar Abdullah, Farookh Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have been slapped with the Public Safety Act and are under detention for more than 200 days.


Farookh Abdullah, under the Vajpayee’s government, defended India’s position on Kashmir to the world, as Minister of State for External Affairs. Now, according to the PSA slapped by the Jammu and Kashmir administration, he stands accused of mobilising the people of Kashmir to defy militants backed by Pak and come out to vote in elections. Just like Mr. Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti has also been deemed “anti-national”. She ran Jammu and Kashmir as Chief Minister with her party in alliance with the BJP for three years. 


Broadening the zone of normalcy


It used to be the Indian government’s primary goal to show the world that the people of Kashmir participated in elections. The government tries its best to obtain diplomatic certification for outcome in elections as a measure of the genuineness of the exercise.  An election in J&K is not going to happen soon, but proving that such an election is genuine, when it is held, will still be the ultimate goal of this government. The steady escorting of foreign delegates into the new Union Territory is an indication of this. The plank of “normalcy” in J&K extends with every lot of foreign envoys that enter the territory. The question then is, when will an election take place if the situation is “normal”?


In Kashmir, colleges and schools were open after the abrogation of Article 370, but nobody attended them. Is that also normal? Many of the established businesses, which were contributing to employment generation and boosting the economy, have been closed down due to the internet shutdown in the valley as they were dependent on internet connection.


Every now and then, U.S. President Donald Trump makes a comment that he is ready to mediate between India and Pakistan, even though New Delhi insists that Kashmir is an internal matter. Earlier, the U.S. used to make such comments in the times when India and America were not having good relations, but it has become a routine for President Trump to offer for mediation, even in times when PM modi gets a grand welcome in the ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston and India is all set to organize ‘Kem Cho Trump’ in Gujarat. Is this too the new normal?


The misconception formed


The government conducts focused, narrowly guided tours in batches for foreign diplomats to make a broad certification of the normalcy that prevails in Jammu and Kashmir to their home countries. The diplomatic envoys see and hear exactly what New Delhi wants them to see and hear. These diplomats go to Srinagar and no doubt send optimistic, impressionistic messages to their countries.  


On the other hand, Indian politicians are not allowed to go to Kashmir and determine the condition. They probably have to request the foreign missions to put out regular updates, in the form of newsletters or health bulletins, to get a better sense of the situation.


 Challenges ahead and the way forward


The main challenge for the government now is to hold elections in the newly created union territory and for that, the delimitation hurdle first needs to be crossed. This will be done on the basis of the 2011 Census.


The active participation of people in the elections is also a challenge for the government and the election commission as even the panchayat polls, which the Prime Minister declared a resounding success, left half of the seats empty because of the boycott calls. For that, there should not be a sense of anger, hurt and betrayal in the valley. The slapping of PSA on PDP and NC leader has also ignited this.


Leaders like Omar Abdullah, Farookh Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti should be freed from the draconian PSA and should be taken into confidence. They could be a great asset in quick stabilization in the valley. Placing senior leaders under detention exclude them from the opportunity of maintaining the normalcy pitch.

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