It is not surprising at all that the maiden trip of India's new Home Minister Amit Shah to Srinagar – during which he emphasized the need for carrying development to the grass roots, criticized the state administration for its failures and reiterated the policy of relentless pursuit of the terrorists – has left the communal-minded Valley parties and the separatist lobby with no scope for raising any political criticism of the visit.
The opponents of the Narendra Modi regime have not been able to find fault with the center's decision to extend reservations granted to people living in the hazardous territory along the Line of Control to those settled on the international border on the same grounds, for fear of exposing their communal outlook. However, the Valley parties – like the separatists there – have for long got away with their blatantly sectarian line that regarded Kashmir not as a territorial problem caused by the Pakistan occupation of a part of the state but as a 'Muslim issue' – and run their politics in total disregard of the reality that Jammu and Kashmir was an integral state housing multiple faiths and communities.
Both the Peoples Democratic Party and the National Conference were a mute spectator to the planned ouster of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley instigated by Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence and what is worse, they spinelessly endorsed the attempt of Pakistan to replicate the Afghan Jehad in Kashmir in the early nineties through a sustained infiltration of the Mujahideen of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an outfit that comprised the Ahle Hadis and followed the extremist Hanbali line.
The LeT gradually subjugated the outfits of Jamaat, a Hanafi organization subscribing to Ijtehad, to a degree where Burhan Wani and Asiya Andrabi would take orders directly from Maulana Hafiz Sayeed based in Pakistan. The Salafi influences imported by these terrorists have nearly destroyed Kashmiriyat that represented the people-oriented value system of Kashmiris.
The only agenda the political parties of the Valley are now able to pursue is to demand early assembly elections, invoking the moral narrative that an elected government was always to be preferred over President's rule, in a democracy. But what has their own record of long years in office got to show – beyond the paralysis of a subverted administration, appeasement of pro-Pak lobbies and permissiveness of corruption?
The NC leadership is faulting the BJP for having run a coalition with PDP. It is true that the intent of the center to opt for that arrangement to encourage the party of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to come closer to the national mainstream proved misplaced but it is all aimed at scoring a point for NC against its political rival. It needs to be mentioned, however, that the inordinate delay on the part of the BJP in pulling out of a coalition that had put the state on the path of alienation and given total freedom to militants, has remained totally unexplained.
During Mehbooba Mufti's regime the NC also maintained a pro-Pak stand on the issue of cross-border terrorism and even made an absurd statement that the center should talk to Pakistan if it wanted stone pelting to stop. Was this not a clear admission that Pakistani agents were behind the disturbances caused by stone pelters and that the administration was too complicit to even identify the masterminds who planned the mischief? There has been an unmistakable competition between the two Valley parties to keep the separatists on their side for gaining power. This story has not changed and the Modi government would be well advised not to encourage these communal forces ever in future.
All these years the average Kashmiri in the Valley and the citizens elsewhere in the state have suffered at the hands of their greedy political masters. They were kept from development at the ground level and fed on anti-India propaganda all the time. The question of India resuming talks with Pakistan lies on the center's turf, connected as it is to the unfinished agenda of what should be done with LoC and it does not permit involvement of any third party, internal or external. The people of Jammu and Kashmir have the right to make demands on the democratically-elected rulers of the state for promoting development and establishing peace. They should not let the latter remain preoccupied with their own political games.
Even the basic step of getting all district magistrates and Superintendents of Police to regularly interact with citizens was not brought into play in Jammu and Kashmir. The initiatives taken under President's rule to pave the way for elections to the panchayat and municipal bodies are unnerving the Valley parties who were feeling left out and were, therefore, raising a bogey that these elections could be held only when there was an Assembly in place.
It is in this backdrop that the first visit of the new home minister to Kashmir has laid the groundwork for a constructive set of policies to be implemented there in a time frame. There is no compromise with terrorism and relentless pursuit of the mujahideen and their local acolytes through intelligence-based operations has to be kept up. The state should put the J&K police in the forefront of a drive against enemy agents hibernating in villages and towns based on local intelligence, instead of leaving everything on the shoulders of the army.
The state administration has to be sternly handled to get it to measure up to the challenge both in the spheres of development and security. Separatists playing the Pakistan game have to be shown their place and legally proceeded against. Evidence is now piling up about the intricate channels through which Pakistan is funding its agents and the separatists in the Valley and elsewhere to run its proxy war against India. The Modi government gets the credit for hitting at the root of the covert offensive of the enemy. In Jammu and Kashmir the state's outreach to the people has to be intensified to encourage them to take charge of the local self bodies, become stake holders in their own development and not allow corrupt politicians to line up their pockets. The cause of local self governance is best served when divisive party politics is not allowed to spoil it.
Once the state tastes the fruits of a democratic advancement and learns to avail of the enormous opportunities that the Kashmiri youth had for them all over India, the artificial construct of 'total alienation' floated by vested political interests will tend to fade away. The questions of autonomy enjoyed by the state of Jammu and Kashmir under the Constitution would then cease to be a bone of contention between the center and the state or between the state and its regions and evolve on two basic paradigms – that it all had to be about the integral state of Jammu and Kashmir treating all its citizens on the same footing and that the threat to the state was from a hostile Pakistan needing to be countered by an alliance of Kashmiris, security forces made available to the state and the political leaders who believed Kashmir had a pride of place in India.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau. The views expressed are personal.)