After the abrogation of Article 370, in August 2019, the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir witnessed its first local elections in December 2020.
It was either a calculated move to show that the BJP was now seeking the democratic route to run the new union territory—with statehood and its special status gone after August 2019, or this was just a soothing balm for those angry with their wings being clipped. But the powers in New Delhi are so mesmerised by the process of winning elections that they refuse to understand that for Kashmiris, elections are only a means to chant anti-India slogans.
The Kashmir issue is clearly one of India’s biggest strategic challenges and will be so for as long as India continues to muddle along with no vision on how to address the problem in its many dimensions. The problem ‘of’ Kashmir – a consequence of India’s collective failures, that has allowed Pakistan to become an alternative for the alienated masses, feeds off the problem ‘in’ Kashmir, that is the consequence of the mess within Kashmir, as politicians in Delhi and Srinagar have allowed issues in J&K to repeatedly spiral out of control.
It leads one to conclude that they either want the Kashmir issue to fester or they have no long term plan to address the challenges within. The latter idea has been confirmed by various knowledgeable experts.
So, while the mirage of another election as an answer to the demands of the Kashmiri people has been floated once again, to pass the buck from Delhi to Srinagar, without addressing the key issues that bedevil the people of Kashmir, little will be achieved, if past experience is anything to go by, with an elected government in place. Another cycle of blame games will begin, with politicians and separatists (the self-appointed spokespersons of the people) each insisting that the other isn’t doing what should be done and that they have a magic wand to solve Kashmir’s problems.
Needed: A deeper look at the Kashmir issue
In reality, what is needed is not just an election, but good governance and development. There has been little if any, of that over the past few decades. And though vast amounts of money have been ploughed by Delhi into the state of J&K, there is little to show where it has gone. In the past, when Ministers in Delhi said that if the transfer of funds would be linked to transparency over what it is being used for, then the political leaders in Srinagar stated that they will not take the funds, citing their financial autonomy as part of Article 370 (which is now dead)!
This had led one to conclude that development is not quite the goal of local leaders, since they eventually use lack of development as a rallying point to garner votes and feed their greed, as Delhi’s leaders looked helplessly by.
While the mirage of another election as an answer to the demands of the Kashmiri people has been floated once again, to pass the buck from Delhi to Srinagar, without addressing the key issues that bedevil the people of Kashmir, little will be achieved, if past experience is anything to go by, with an elected government in place.
And the other is the insistence of every local politician that military men must go back to the barracks as if the insurgency will end with the elections, even if it is free and fair (unlike 1987)! Insurgencies have their roots in a ‘cause’, which could be political, social or economic – and in Kashmir, they’ve all been there in the past three decades – and these causes are exploited by both internal elements and external forces (like Pakistan). And an alienated population, which has no hope out of the existing mess, ends up as a fifth column for cross border militias or are forced into compliance.
This heady cocktail has been there in the Valley for long, and a leadership with a vision (beyond enacting the charade of elections) should draw up a five-year plan for Jammu and Kashmir, and implement it with all its will. Until New Delhi does that, the Kashmir issue will remain a problem that should have been solved 25 years ago but hasn’t been, because ‘Kashmir Inc.’ is a business that benefits many entities.