When Union home minister P. Chidambaram told a Srinagar audience on Monday that he hoped and believed that the honour, dignity and future of Kashmiris are secure with India, he only echoed what most citizens feel. The big question for Chidambaram and the delegation he is leading is how to get this message across to the people of that trouble-torn province.
The chances that he will be able to communicate that message of hope are rather dim. And that has nothing to do with the Union government. It has everything to do with local politics in the Kashmir valley. It is important to understand the facts around the situation well before recommending any far-reaching steps.
Today, Kashmir has two main political players: the secessionists—pro-Pakistan or pro-“independence”, and the mainstream political parties—the National Conference (NC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The one big success of recent years has been that of creating political space for the mainstream parties.
Perhaps it has been all too successful. Mainstream politics in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is now like that of any other state. Political power is assiduously sought and fights to acquire it are vehement and bitter. Chief minister Omar Abdullah faces a resurgent PDP less than two years after his electoral win. The PDP, which was a partner in an earlier Congress-led coalition, lost a lot of political ground after a row over allocation of land to a trust for the Amarnath pilgrimage in 2008. It has recovered quickly. In the absence of administrative vision, both parties have to keep making demands for autonomy, protest against “atrocities” by the army and blame the Centre for their own inability to govern J&K properly.
Omar Abdullah’s demand that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) be revoked in J&K should be seen in this light. It is another matter that recent deaths have been those of lawbreakers in urban areas of the state and that the army had nothing to do with them. When the army has not been deployed in these areas, the demand for revoking AFSPA can only be seen as arising through local politics and attempts by the younger Abdullah to counter the PDP. All this is indicative of “normal” politics.
The stone-pelting crowds are the alarmed answer of secessionist parties to this normalization of politics in which they’ve lost out. These are the realities that the all-party delegation should be aware of. It is the hapless people of the state who need succour. No effort should be spared to help them.
Politics in Kashmir: has normalcy set in? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org