Half Time Over

Khursheed Wani

The BJPDP coalition is inching towards completion of half of its 6-year term. Post durbar move to Jammu last month, the coalition appears to be finding threads to focus on the governance issues. While the committee comprising senior leaders of the two parties met over snacks in Jammu to oversee the functioning of the government, the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti travelled to Rajouri, Poonch, Samba and Kathua to meet the people. The efforts seem to be focused on creating an impression that governance was going to be the priority now on.

Three years was a period when late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, in his maiden tenure as Chief Minister between 2002 and 2005, in coalition with the Congress, was able to create a benchmark for governance. The impact of those three years was so huge that despite remaining partially involved in government for the next two and a half years during Ghulam Nabi Azad’s tenure and in opposition for six years in Omar Abdullah’s period, Mufti could hold his flock together and manage a comeback in 2014 elections.

The three years of the new coalition not only wiped off the impact of the previous tenure but created existential issues for PDP. Soon after entering into a coalition with the BJP, Mufti lost the plot and eventually became its casualty. After his demise in January 2015, his daughter resisted taking over but ultimately gave in.

One positive with Mehbooba is that she doesn’t feel any imminent threat to her government. The BJP is powerful in Delhi but at the same time, Narendra Modi’s aura is depleting for a host of reasons. Modi’s dictatorial behaviour is likely to diminish in the coming years and that would give an elbow room to Mehbooba to focus on some issues she was unable to touch. The sudden and debatable appointment of Dineshwar Sharma as ‘special representative’ on Jammu and Kashmir was introduced as one such means to pick up the threads even as the first visit of the interlocutor turned out to be a damp squib. The Chief Minister would like to see the newest intervention as an opportunity to find a toehold for rediscovering the politics her party has lost the grip on, She may be thinking of gaining in the next-half what her party lost in the first half.

It is apparently in this backdrop that on November 23, Mufti announced the withdrawal of cases against youths alleged to be involved in stone-pelting for the first time. She quickly linked it with Dineshwar Sharma’s suggestion and Delhi’s ‘commitment’ to creating an atmosphere for sustained dialogue.

“It gives me immense satisfaction to restart the process of withdrawing FIRs against first-time offenders involved in stone pelting. My government had initiated the process in May last year but it was stalled due to the unrest,” Mehbooba said in a tweet. “It is a ray of hope for these young boys and their families. This initiative will provide them an opportunity to rebuild their lives.”

“It is encouraging that the interlocutor has started on a positive note. His recommendations are being taken seriously by both the central and state governments,” she added.

Booking youngsters in cases of stone-pelting, mostly on frivolous and flimsy grounds, has been one of the issues the Mufti government is grappling with. Of 11500 cases, around 4,500 are against those who were booked for the first time in stone-pelting. The amnesty would be exclusive. There is no word on the rest of cases though Mehbooba has sought to link the initiative with her previous announcement in last May on reviewing cases registered between 2008 and 2014.

The announcement came at a time when major offensive against militants is also underway. Since January, 195 militants have been killed and there is hardly any day when a major operation to flush out militants is not underway in Kashmir. The security apparatus has learned to manage the situation during the encounters and after the killing of militants through heavy deployments and snapping communication lines but this cannot be passed off as change on the ground level. The surrender offer, as in case of footballer Majid Khan of Islamabad, who abandoned Lashkar-e-Toiba outfit a week after joining it, following his parents’ pleas, too is being highlighted by the government at large scale.

The amnesty to select ‘stone-throwers’ can be a small step if it is complimented by other initiatives. Before vying for a dialogue with separatists, there has to be a change in the atmospherics. Hundreds of political workers are languishing in jails and police stations despite court orders favouring their release. Mehbooba government can, at least, issue directions to the police not to re-arrest those freed by courts.

On the governance front, a general perception is that Mehbooba has failed to create an impression. Her directions are not paid heed to by the top bureaucrats. The general administration department is busy in either transfers or making amends to the transfer orders. The number of leaders is increasing in the system and that of workers and doers is depleting. This is the worst crisis a government can ever face. Can Mehbooba bring about a change in the system in the second half?

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