Now that the initial excitement over abrogation of Article 370 has died, people are waking up to the harsh truth that nothing much has changed on the ground
Time changes fast and so does the mood of the people. The initial euphoria over the abrogation of Articles 35A, 370 and division of the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) into two Union Territories is dying and stark reality is staring the people in the face. They are disappointed by the fact that the situation is worsening and not improving. Unemployment, corruption, poor governance, red tape and a non-responsive administration continue to haunt the people.
While officialese like “large projects require a gestation period”, “large investments will take time to flow in”, “no loss of lives is paramount” and “there will be no compromise on security” is well understood by the people, it is the widening disconnect between the citizens and the administration that is worrying.
Though the post-August 5 dynamics are entirely different in Jammu & Kashmir, there is one commonality and that is the need to win the confidence of the people. Nothing much has been done in this respect either by the Central Government or the UT administration headed by the newly-appointed Lieutenant-Governor. Lofty announcements made by the last Governor of the former State remain on paper and have yet to be implemented.
Pakistan was a nuisance then and it continues to remain so even today. The figures tabled in the Parliament by the Minister of State for Home Affairs do not project a positive picture as far as law and order is concerned. As per him, there were 361 cases of stone pelting/law and order disruption up to August 4 and 190 from August 5 to November 15. Going purely by statistics, while there were 51 cases per month prior to August 4, the figure went up to 54 cases per month after August 5. Not a very rosy picture, despite the changed circumstances and the increased deployment of security forces.
Though there have been no civilian deaths due to retaliation by the security forces, Pakistan-sponsored terrorists have been able to create fear through random killing of civilians and migrant labourers associated with the industry and the apple trade. The speed at which procedures were carried out during “Operation All Out” to flush terrorists has decelerated and “Operation Clean Up” has yet to gain momentum, though in winters it is easier to track down and eliminate terrorists as they are forced to vacate their hideouts in the upper reaches.
The crusade launched against graft by the previous Governor received an overwhelming response and people were happy when the corruption in the J&K Bank was exposed. But after the initial hullabaloo nothing much has happened till date, creating a doubt in the people’s mind over the Government’s sincerity in dealing with the corrupt.
More than a dozen proven cases of corruption pertaining to prominent politicians, including ex-Ministers, have been languishing for more than a decade, with no forward movement at all under the present dispensation, too. No action has yet been taken against those involved in scams in the J&K Cricket Association and the Roshini scheme. Many other cases of corruption, including a few involving former Chief Ministers exposed by the previous Governor, have yet to be investigated. The much talked about Employees Group Insurance scam seems to have been buried, too. This has disappointed the citizens who were anxiously looking forward to action against the corrupt. Gradually, the confidence in the system is getting eroded.
Grassroot-level democracy was introduced in the State with much fanfare and the people participated in the panchayat and local body elections in large numbers, defying terrorist threats. But nothing seems to have changed thereafter. These bodies are still crying for empowerment and financial independence and promises made to them have yet to be fulfilled. The lukewarm response to the Back to Village initiative to reach out to the people at the grassroots level as compared to its first version will certainly be a cause of worry for the new L-G.
The promise of providing 50,000 Government jobs to the youth remains unfulfilled and there is no indication of the Government even putting the process into motion. Though there were certain recruitments made by the police but the people belonging to the West Pakistan refugee community and other deprived communities were denied entry as they did not possess a Permanent Residence Certificate, which should have become irrelevant post abrogation of Article 35A. The much-awaited domicile laws have yet to see the light of day adding to the prevailing feeling of disappointment.
After abrogation of Article 370, the people were hoping that the policy of one nation, one tax would be implemented here as well but the levying of toll tax on select goods entering the UT through Lakhanpur has added to the list of woes.
The lack of internet for over 100 days has not gone down well with the people as it has become a necessity not just for accessing Government services but also for running businesses, trades, offices, hospitals and hotels. Security is paramount but blanket denial of this facility amounts to collective punishment. Mass punishments seldom resolve the problem but in fact add to it because of collective annoyance. It is not only adversely affecting students and businesses, it is also adding to the Government’s revenue loss due to non-filing of various mandatory returns.
However, every dark cloud has a silver lining. The fall in the number of local youth joining the militant ranks is very heartening. Long queues seen at the recruiting rallies of the police, Indian Army and Central Armed Police Forces are even more heartening. But the Government has to provide more avenues of employment to the youth to keep them away from militancy because the adverse effects of conflict-related stress can easily make them rebellious. There is a need to give a fillip to traditional sectors like horticulture, handicraft, tourism, handloom, animal husbandry and agriculture.
The people of Jammu had welcomed the abrogation of Article 370 with open arms and has countered the propaganda launched by the status-quoists. But now, the prevailing view in Jammu is that while de jure Jammu has been rid of Kashmiri hegemony, de facto it continues to remain subservient to the Kashmir-centric approach of the bureaucracy. This anomaly needs to be set right by the administration.
The big question in the mind of most of the people is “what has changed”? Nothing can change as long as the administration remains cast in the same mould as it was during the era of 370. The raja (king) and praja (citizen) approach has to give way to the sevak (worker) and praja system to gain the confidence of the people.
Revival of tourism is crucial to win people’s confidence because it affects both the regions. Special “Leave Travel Concession” packages for Central Government employees for visiting Kashmir during winters are likely to increase the footfall of civilian tourists too.
Exclusive fast track courts need to be set up to try corruption cases and investigations must be speeded up. Deadwood should be got rid of or sent on postings to some distant UTs.
To save the youth from further radicalisation, not only the madrasas but school education needs a thorough overhaul. The Jammat cadre, which has been rehabilitated under the Rehbar-i-Taleem scheme, is doing greater harm than the teachers of the madrasas.
Genuine grievances of the people need to be considered sympathetically and disposed of without the baggage of erstwhile State politics. The administration needs to engage the aggrieved section in a dialogue and close their grievances. This will help win the confidence of the people in the short-term so that they become willing partners in ensuring the success of long-term measures, as envisaged in the new narrative. This is essential to bring peace, stability, development and happiness for the people of the Union Territory of Jammu-Kashmir.
(Writer: Anil Gupta; Courtesy: The Pioneer)