KASHMIR: A FRESH LAYOUT

On June 28, 2019 the Home Minister, Government of India while presenting an amendment Bill in Parliament (Lok Sabha) on reservation to people living on the International Border in Jammu and Kashmir made a passionate presentation on the state as a whole. In fact, the Home Minister’s presentation was preceded by his visit to Kashmir earlier for two days to have an on the spot assessment of situation prevailing there. It is interesting to note that there were neither shut down calls from separatist groups nor was any hartal observed to protest the visit of Home Minister in Kashmir.

 

The Home Minister touched the chord by emphasizing that ‘Kashmir had suffered a great deal and we have to restore the confidence of people even if we have to go out of our way.’ He stressed that the Government had taken the pledge to accord top most priority to Kashmir. He sarcastically observed that formal inaugurals of projects were routinely held without heralding their completion. He asserted that during the last couple of years 16 projects which were announced by this Government had been completed and made operational. He frankly observed that when promises which are made are not fulfilled, results in disenchantment among people.He mentioned varied developmental initiatives and packages undertaken for the state, creation of employment opportunities, mainstreaming the youth of the state, issues relating to Ladakh etc.

 

One of the significant reference made by the Home Minister related to Panchayat edifice in the state. This is the area which should assume priority in the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir. The government at the center needs to be sensitized that political empowerment of people is at the core of many a problem in Jammu and Kashmir particularly in Kashmir valley. The Home Minister sarcastically referred to the phenomenon of political power remaining in the hands of three specific families. Thus, there is a craving among masses for political space and Panchayat Raj system provides this space. The Home Minister mentioned that Panchayat Elections in the state were held peacefully which elected 40,000 ‘Panchs’. The empowerment of these Panchs and assigning an effective role to Panchayats holds the key to restore the confidence of people particularly in Kashmir in the system. The policy makers in the Union Government could ponder over the disenchantment of people in Kashmir after the abolition of feudal order and restoration of ‘land to tiller’ in early Fifties. In fact, Jammu and Kashmir was the only state in entire South Asia where thousands of acres of land were restored to the tillers. However, this historical initiative was not followed by establishing an effective and participatory Panchayat Raj system. It created a situation where at one level urban population was economically empowered but at political level they felt marginalized. Over the years this feeling of marginalization has been growing and it is high time that it should be addressed. Karnataka state provides an illustration of an effective functioning of Panchayat Raj system.

 

The statement of the Home Minister briefly discussed above needs to be viewed from the responses of media as well as conventional political class in Kashmir. It is an irony that the local as well as national media have ignored the positive aspects of this statement. It appears that sensational events in the state are the forte of media headlines. The emphasis on strengthening the grass roots level mechanisms in the state has created an unease among the conventional political class in the state because power, in all its dimensions, has been their mainstay.

 

In conclusion, we may emphasize that accountability and transparency of the system hold the key to determine the credibility of the initiatives on Kashmir. We shall be utilizing these two mechanisms in gauging the intentions of the Union Government toward Kashmir.

 

RIYAZ PUNJABI

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