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View: Government's plan for a reboot in J&K depends on its ability to draw youth away from militancy

Successive governments, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first term included, have approached J&K as a security problem that has to be managed.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Jul 16, 2019, 10.31 AM IST
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BCCL
Kashmir
One of the reasons why elected state governments failed to deliver is that they made no impact on young Kashmiris.
The change in tone, grammar and content of GoI’s conversation on Jammu and Kashmir may look like a variant of the old hardline. But, in reality, it’s a fundamental shift in the Centre’s approach — one that seeks a political overhaul instead of old-school conflict management.

Successive governments, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first term included, have approached J&K as a security problem that has to be managed. In fact, that was one of the reasons used to justify the BJP-PDP alliance, as a measure to ensure a democratically elected government with a semblance of stability. The security agencies were key to managing such a situation.

They helped ensure credible participation, create a conducive enough environment to holding polls, and ensure that channels for dialogue with Valley separatists were kept open.

This now seems to be gradually changing, considering how the Modi administration has approached the situation so far in its second term. The most significant indicator was that almost all meetings of home minister Amit Shah during his first visit to the Valley last month were set up through political and administrative channels, not through intelligence agencies. There was no meeting slotted with any of the local political parties.

GoI made it clear it will not converse with any political entity questioning the authority of the Indian State. The message to separatists was to drop anti-India rhetoric if it ever wanted to explore a conversation with the Centre. Shah, instead, spent considerable time with newly elected panchayat heads. He, in fact, hoped that future MLAs would come from this lot.

The administrative attention being given to this process under President’s rule is quite significant. Last month, the entire secretariat was almost emptied out, as every officer was asked to go spend a couple of nights in a village.

Some 4,500 villages were targeted within a week. The officers are supposed to have interacted with the village sarpanch and local population to identify specific development priorities.

Clearly, GoI is investing heavily in politically empowering Panchayati Raj institutions during this spell of President’s rule. Simultaneously, a big crackdown is going on against those who formed the ruling elite in Srinagar, many of whom were also engaged by security and intelligence agencies.

Out of the Vault
Hilal Rather, son of former J&K finance minister Abdul Rahim Rather, was raided by the income-tax (I-T) department for his dealings with J&K Bank on the day Shah visited the Valley. Conventionally, agencies would halt such actions when a home minister would be visiting J&K, so as to ensure ‘positive’ political signalling. In this case, the message was quite the opposite.

RBI has started a special audit of J&K Bank, and the I-T department is sifting through all data to detect frauds and defaulters. The shake-up has had a big impact on J&K’s political elite, as the bank was central to the Valley’s political economy, patronised by everyone from separatists in the Hurriyat to mainstream politicians.

This, along with a range of other steps — including reservations for those staying in the border areas of J&K — are aimed at what GoI now believes as ‘correcting’ the skewed political landscape of the state. Ideological battles aside, some of these moves do find traction, as they target many from the ancien régime dominated by political dynasties. The challenge, however, for GoI — and, thus, BJP — is to find a credible way to engage J&K’s youth.

One of the reasons why elected state governments failed to deliver is that they made no impact on young Kashmiris. On the contrary, the latter felt alienated and became easy fodder for those who wanted to foment trouble in the Valley.

The idea was that democracy would slowly gain grounds. Instead, inefficiency and corruption killed that hope as youth took to the streets in 2008-09, first as stone-pelters, and then as ‘new age’ terror role models like Burhan Wani. The loss of another young generation of Kashmiris to an anti-India cause was, for many, a bigger setback than any other India may have had in the Valley.

GoI’s hard new red lines make sense at many levels, also because the external situation in the Af-Pak theatre is likely to change in a way that will have other actors busy in matters other than J&K — such as, who will rule from Kabul. This is not to say that Pakistan will be less active. But it may find it difficult to challenge a more emboldened Indian State while fixing its other big problems.

Catching Them Young
Nevertheless, it’s important to take note that 125 terrorists have been killed until June 2019. More than 400 were killed in 2017 and 2018, even as infiltration has reportedly been brought under control. It’s being deduced that Kashmir’s local youth are still being recruited in significant numbers. This is essentially the core of the problem. Unless this gap is plugged through better governance, this new model, too, will also come under stress.

In other words, GoI’s desire for a political reboot in J&K is predicated on the success of its governance paradigm, and its ability to meaningfully engage with the young and their aspirations.
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