Time ticks very fast and so does the mood of the people. The initial euphoria over the abrogation of Articles 35A, 370 and reorganisation of the state is fast dying down with stark realities staring at the faces of the citizens. There is no doubt in their mind that there exists no magic band that would usher changes overnight. None is expecting that and those who maybe are living in a utopian world. The majority of the people are realists. They have accepted the changed reality and are willing to move forward. However, they feel disappointed when they see things worsening rather than improving. Unemployment, corruption, poor governance, red tape, non-responsive administration, Babugiri and ‘Raja-Praja’ attitude continue to haunt the people as hitherto fore.
‘Large projects require gestation period’, ‘large investments will take time to flow in’, ‘no loss of lives’ is paramount and ‘no compromise on security’ are all well understood by the people. It is the widening disconnect between the people and the administration that is a cause of worry. Though the post 05 August dynamics are entirely different in the two regions namely Jammu and Kashmir yet 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 government headed by the newly appointed LG to raise the morale of the nationalists who have suffered immensely during the era of favouritism and discrimination. Lofty announcements made by the last Governor of the state remain more in paper or media 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 Home Affairs do not project a positive picture as far as law and order are concerned. As per him, the figures related to cases pertaining to stone pelting/law & order in 2019 were 361 up to 04 August and 190 from 05 August to until 15 November. Going purely by statistics, while there were 51 cases per month prior to 04 August, the figure is higher at 54 cases per month post 05 August.
Not a very rosy picture keeping in mind that period post 05 August cannot be compared with the earlier period due to entirely different and changed circumstances including increased force deployment. The brighter but important aspect is almost nil civilian deaths due to the retaliation by security forces. Pak sponsored terrorists have been able to create scare among the locals by resorting to the random killing of civilians associated with trade and apple industry including the labour. The kinetic speed at which operations were carried out during Operation “All Out” has de-accelerated 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 corruption by the previous governor received an overwhelming response from all and sundry. People were overjoyed when the skeletons started tumbling from the cupboard of J&K Bank, as the Bank was seen as a den of corrupt practices. But despite all the initial hullabaloo, nothing much has happened till date, creating a doubt in the people’s mind over the government’s sincerity to deal 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. No action has yet been taken on those involved in JKCA and Roshini scams. Many other cases of corruption including a few involving the former CMs exposed by the previous governor have yet to be investigated. The much-touted Employees Group Insurance scam seems to have been buried. This is what has disappointed the people who were anxiously looking forward to action against the corrupt so that a strong message goes across to the others. Gradually the confidence in the system is getting eroded.
Grass root level democracy was introduced in the state with much fanfare and the people participated in the elections to PRIs and ULBs in large number defying the terrorist threat and the boycott calls. But nothing seems to have changed thereafter. They are still crying for empowerment and financial independence. Promises made to them have yet to be fulfilled. The idea behind transferring the hub of power from Gupkar Road to towns and villages is good in conception but very poor in implementation leading to further erosion of confidence as far as general public is concerned. The lukewarm response to Back to Village 2 (B2V2) as compared to its first version will certainly be a cause of worry for the LG and his administration.
The announcement of providing 50,000 government jobs to the youth of the state brought maximum cheers across the length and breadth of the state. However, till now it has been yet another story of disappointment. There is no indication from the government of even putting the process into motion. With every passing day many get dejected and despaired due to the feasibility of becoming overaged. Their confidence is in the boots. On the contrary, there were certain recruitments made by the police but the youth belonging to WP refugee community and the other deprived communities were denied entry due to not being in possession of Permanent Residence Certificate, which should have become irrelevant post abrogation of Article 35A. This eroded their self-respect leading to loss of hope and confidence. Much awaited Domicile laws have yet to see the light of the day adding to the prevailing confusion.
After abrogation of 370, people were happy with one nation, one flag, and one constitution and hoped that the policy of one nation one tax will be fully implemented here as well. But continued levying of toll tax at Lakhanpur on selected goods entering the UT has added to the list of dissatisfaction of the people.
Internet has now become a necessity with the government also promoting transparency and digitalisation. It has become a necessity for the businessmen, traders, students, offices, hospitals, hotels as well as for filling various forms, e tendering and other online facilities launched for better ease of living and ease of doing business. The continued denial of this facility for more than 100 days to the people of UT is causing great dissatisfaction. Security is paramount but blanket denial of this facility amounts to mass punishment. Mass punishments seldom prove to resolve the problem but in fact, add to the problem because of collective annoyance. It is not only adversely affecting the business, but it also is adding to the government’s revenue loss due to non-filing of various mandatory returns.
Every dark cloud has a silver lining. The decrease in the number of local youth joining the militant ranks is very heartening. Long queues seen at the recruiting rallies of Indian Army, CAPFs and JKP is even more heartening. But the government has to provide more avenues of employment to the youth to keep them away from the gun because the adverse effects of conflict-related stress can easily make him change his mind. There is a need to give fillip and boost to local traditional sectors like horticulture, handicrafts, tourism, handloom, animal husbandry and agriculture.
People of Jammu were more forthcoming and welcomed the abrogation of 370 with open arms and with jubilation all around. Despite the efforts of the vested interests and naysayers, the people of Jammu thanked the Modi government for doing an act which many had thought to be impossible during their life span. They countered the propaganda launched by the status quoists with a sense of hope and a brighter future. They were happy to come out of Kashmiri hegemony and say goodbye to the era of discrimination. But gradually their confidence was also shaken due to certain measures taken by the government. The prevailing view in Jammu gaining momentum is that while de jure Jammu has been rid of Kashmiri hegemony de facto it continues to remain subservient to Kashmir-centric approach of the bureaucracy which is loaded heavily in favour of Kashmir. This anomaly needs to be set right by the administration.
The general mood in the Jammu region from hopeful is veering towards despair. The lawyers are on indefinite strike, transporters are agitating, people are unhappy with new toll posts violating the laid down norms and exorbitantly high rates, farmers are dismayed at loss of 80% Basmati crop, rising toll of fatal causalities due to road accidents are worrisome, OBC community is unhappy for not getting reservation at par with rest of the country, landowners are agitating for very low rate of compensation (not commensurate with national rate) for the land acquired for the Jammu Bypass project, whatever is left of industry is on the verge of collapse, “Jammu as an independent tourist destination” remains only on papers and heart-wrenching scenes of homeless ladies, whose homes were demolished for airport expansion, sitting in the open in cold cursing the administration added another woe in the long list of anguish of Jammuites.
The common question on 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. Raja and Praja approach have to give way to Sevak and Praja system to gain the confidence of the people. This needs no gestation period or huge investments. It only needs the will to cleanse the system to make it people-friendly and transparent.
The revival of tourism is crucial to winning people’s confidence because it affects both regions. Special “Leave Travel Concession” packages for the central government employees for visiting Kashmir during winters is likely to increase the footfall of tourists. It may act as a catalyst for other citizens wanting to enjoy the winters in Kashmir.
Exclusive Fast Track Courts need to be set up to try corruption cases. Investigations need to be speeded up. Deadwood should be got rid of or sent on postings to some distant UTs to cool down. A thorough revamp and overhaul of administrative machinery with a changed mindset and the fresh outlook is also needed to win people’s confidence. Rohangiyas, the ticking time bomb, need to be moved out of the state as there is no more political interference on the issue.
To save the youth from further radicalisation not only the Madrasa but school education also needs a thorough overhaul. The Jammat cadre which has been rehabilitated under the Rehbar-i-Taleem scheme is doing greater harm than the maulvis 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 dialogue and close their grievances. All the above-mentioned measures will help win the confidence of the people in short term so that they become satisfied and willing partners in ensuring success of long term measures, as envisaged in the New Narrative, which is supposed to be game-changers and bring peace, stability, development and happiness for the people of Union Territory of Jammu-Kashmir.
Brig Anil Gupta is a Jammu based political commentator, columnist, security and strategic analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)