New Delhi: The Centre appears to be losing faith in chief minister Omar Abdullah-led government in Jammu and Kashmir, where spiralling violence has left scores dead in three months.
On Tuesday, even as six people were injured when protesters defied a curfew to attack the house of a former lawmaker and clashed with security forces, Abdullah said he was not going to quit.
Tight spot: Abdullah (left) addresses a rally in Jammu on Monday. PTI
“I am not going to plunge the state into a bigger crisis by leaving it headless at this stage,” he told CNN-IBN news channel.
The Congress, which heads the Union government, allied with Abdullah’s National Conference to form a coalition government in the state two years ago. It backed the young chief minister against his detractors as violence began to surge in June, following the death of a 17-year-old by a teargas shell fired by security forces to dispel a group of protesters.
But the bloodshed has continued unabated, culminating in 17 deaths on Monday. Congress’ patience now seems to be running out.
A Monday meeting of the cabinet committee on security (CCS), led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, slammed Abdullah’s failure and asked him to address issues of “trust deficit and governance deficit”.
“The Central government does not have much to do at a point when the state government is seen as an utter failure. There is no point in taking any steps unless we gain some confidence at the ground. The basic delivery of service has to be ensured before proceeding,” said an official familiar with the development, requesting anonymity.
A Union minister also spoke about the government’s disenchantment with Abdullah.
“There is no doubt that the state government has failed miserably. The chief minister turned out to be a major disappointment. He has completely messed up things. He does not make any attempts to keep his ears to the ground,” said the minister, who also did not want to be named.
But he pointed out the Centre’s dilemma—the lack of an alternative to Abdullah. “It’s true that we do not have a credible replacement.”
The violence has undone hopes of lasting peace in the state, where a separatist insurgency began nearly two decades ago. The state was, however, relatively calm in the past few years.
Assembly elections in 2008 saw a high voter turnout of 70%, albeit reports that people had been forced to vote by security forces. Abdullah, who was then 38, stepped into the chief minister’s shoes and the state appeared headed towards normalcy.
Since the fresh surge of violence, the Centre has been urging him to reach out to the restive Kashmiri youth population, but the chief minister has blamed the bloodshed on sweeping powers given to the armed forces to fight militancy in the state.
Monday’s CCS meeting deferred a decision on pruning the powers of security forces until Wednesday, when the subject will be discussed at an all-party meeting.
According to the Union government, diluting the powers of the military is not the key to resolving the crisis, although it may pave the way for starting a dialogue between the government and the separatists.
“In the (all-party) meeting, it will be discussed how the process of tripartite dialogue among the Centre, state government and separatists will begin,” said another government official, who did not want to be named.
L.K. Advani, former deputy prime minister and a leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, said the situation in the state was alarming and blamed both the Centre and state governments for it.
Curfew was extended across the Kashmir valley on Tuesday. Flights to and from Srinagar were cancelled and major newspapers went missing from the stands. Local television channels, too, stopped broadcasting temporarily.
Mint’s Sahil Makkar, PTI and AFP contributed to this story.