The “quiet talks” between the Union home ministry and the Kashmiri separatists have so rattled the jihadis as to cause them to attack a senior moderate Hurriyat leader, Fazal Haq Qureshi. At the same time, the US military surge in Afghanistan, announced by President Obama, provides a strategic opportunity for the jihadis and their Pakistani masters to turn the route marking signs for their cadre from Afghanistan to Kashmir. This also fits in with the precarious situation prevailing in Pakistan, wherein both the military and the political leadership there need an external diversion to distract the attention of the Pakistani populace. Kashmir has always been their preferred choice for creating any such distraction—whether by ratcheting up jihadi infiltration or by launching another 1948, 1965 or 1999 like military-jihadi operation into India—which would also bring international attention back on to the Kashmir dispute.
But the challenge in Kashmir is not only external; it has equally complex internal dimensions as well. Any long-lasting solution to the Kashmir problem will depend on the on the quality of governance delivered by the state government on the one hand, and the political capacity and credibility of the mainstream Kashmiri political leadership on the other. Thus there are two distinct, yet congruent areas that Omar Abdullah, the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir, needs to tackle simultaneously: governance and politics. The challenges to governance in the state are huge, which are compounded by poor infrastructure and stalled development during the last two decades of insurgency. Although reinvigorating this decapitated administrative machinery is no simple task, much visible progress has been made on this front during Mr Abdullah’s first year in office.
Mr Abdullah can take heart from the fact that the Union government seems to be doing its bit to shore up his government. The Union government has approved a plan outlay of Rs 6,500 crore (US$ 1.4 billion) this year, which is almost 40 percent higher than the plan size of the previous year. Over and above the plan outlay, funding under the Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Plan— which aims at improving infrastructure in the state—has also been doubled from Rs 1,012 crore (US$ 217 million) to Rs 2,417 crore (US$ 518 million) for the current fiscal year.
Furthermore, the Union home minister has publicly supported the chief minister in his plan to get the central security forces back to the barracks.
Notwithstanding his inheritance as chief minister—a paralysed government machinery, dispirited bureaucracy, moribund police force and self-serving political leadership—Omar Abdullah just does not have any excuses to not boldly take on the political challenges that confront him and the state. While it is easy for him to focus on administration and governance, or rather the lack of it, politics is what brings accountability to governance. No democratic government can afford to run an administrative system without the support of a strong ruling political party, and bereft of the feedback provided by grassroots workers of the party.
The recent occurrences in the Shopian incident typify the political challenges that confront Mr Abdullah. An inept administrative response by the state government to the allegations of rape of two Kashmiri women by security forces allowed the political opponents of the chief minister to make political capital at the expense of the Indian state. A wide range of political forces—from the separatists to the local Congress leaders—were arrayed against him for their selfish reasons. It is here that the weak party structure of the National Conference caused tremendous damage to Mr Abdullah’s reputation as an administrator and a political leader. He sought an administrative solution to the political problem by obtaining a CBI enquiry into the incident. The CBI, in its report submitted to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, has exonerated the security forces and has instead filed a charge sheet against the doctors and lawyers whose testimonies and reports had implicated the security forces in the first place. This has reignited the agitative fire with violent protests erupting in various parts of the Kashmir valley throwing down a fresh gauntlet to Mr Abdullah.
All parties have to eventually fight these political battles in the political domain, supported by robust administrative action. A failure by the ruling party to counter its political rivals puts the government under additional stress. This more often than not results in an administrative failure which has been on display during the Shopian incident.
Unfortunately, like most other family-run parties in India, the National Conference is also an oligarchical venture totally in control of the Abdullahs. Farooq Abdullah, the party president, has moved to Delhi as a Union minister. In any case, he neither has the patience nor the capacity to undertake the painstaking endeavour of rebuilding a political party. This leaves the job of rebuilding the National Conference to his son, Omar. Paradoxically, the more Omar Abdullah focuses on governance and administration, the lesser he can direct his energies towards reviving the party. In the same vein, focusing more on the party would be at the cost of his constitutional job as the political executive of the state.
Mr Abdullah simply can not undertake two herculean tasks—providing governance to the ravaged state of Jammu & Kashmir and rebuilding the National Conference—simultaneously on his own. As he rejuvenates the administrative capacity of his government with the help of a supportive New Delhi, Omar Abdullah has to quickly realise that his success as chief minister will be contingent on rebuilding his party. While he occupies the chief minister’s chair for the next five years, the task of rebuilding the party will have to be undertaken by someone else. It is here that he will have to look beyond an Abdullah surname and get the systems and processes of a democratic party in place soon. Anything short of reviving the National Conference will be Omar Abdullah selling himself short—and letting the nation down—when the next crisis erupts.
And crises, as we know too well, are just around the corner in Kashmir.