Honeymoon Over

As Mufti Sayeed led PDP-BJP coalition is completing first 100 days in office, Bilal Handoo tries to identify the governance mood that waxed and waned with weather and politics

Mufti-Sayeed-SKICC
“Is it any wonder, people are searching for the Mufti of 2002 & can’t seem to find him anywhere!!!”

After taking over for the second time at 79, Mufti Sayeed’s first Kashmir related decision was releasing Rs 10 crore to fast-track road-widening at Pantha Chowk. Aimed at helping commuters manage normal passage in one of the worst patches of the road connecting Kashmir with the larger world, grant indicated his strong connections with ground zero. Then a lull took over. Finally, coinciding with his 100 days in office, bulldozers appeared and levelled the area. Soon, it may be worth the travel.

By then, it was the common minimum programme that dominated TV screens, a plan aimed at offering political space and the same old healing touch, without compromising the specialities that J&K enjoyed otherwise. As the diverse political ideologies merged for governance, it took some time for Kashmir to understand how PDP’s change is not different from BJP’s vikas. But which way is the coalition going?

PDP played flood card in campaigning, but almost nine months after the rehabilitation of the flood devastated areas continues to be its question mark. Certain cheques which CM handed over to flood-hit haven’t struck the larger change. Whatever has happened was done either with insurance money or with bank loans. A debate is still going over whether the government must prioritize livelihoods or business. The latest hat that was thrown in the ring was that of RBI governor Dr Raghuram Rajan.

Part of the crisis is the liquidity crunch. Though there hasn’t been any significant decrease in devolution of committed expenditures, funds required for plan are yet to mark a beginning. Official response is that this is primarily because of the poor follow up to doing away of the Planning Commission.

Liabilities have piled up but the government says they will still require some time to get things on track. “What would you do when an off-track tourist development authority for Mansbal throws illegal liabilities of more than Rs 20 crores on your face,” says one prominent face in present dispensation.

But, legacies have been like this. NC says PDP-Congress coalition had left liabilities of Rs 2000 crores when it demitted office! But government says there is clear resource gap of Rs 8000 crore. It has already employed a third party to audit the public finances of the government for more than a decade.

But will white paper help? The market is exhibiting a terrible appetite for cash.

Some lawmakers like Engineer Rashid quite bluntly accuse finance minister Dr Haseeb Drabu for failing to mobilise resources. Drabu, it may be recalled here, insists that he stands by what he said in the budget: “I shall not go with a begging bowl to New Delhi.” Sources close to him say 100 days is “too small” to clear “the mess”.

Funds apart, even politics matters. Mufti’s second inning indicated it will be a “smart government” based on a “smart script”. But the moment floodgate of crisis opened, smartness was apparently rolled back, momentarily. This encouraged even separatists like Yasin Malik to insist that Mufti’s government only exists in media. He even accused local media of being “government’s laundry”.

Mufti government had vowed to provide “space” to separatists. But within Mufti’s 100 days, Malik started “Jail bharo” movement to protest the denial of political space. In fact, the crackdown on separatist was read as setback to Mufti’s “accommodating” – live-and-let-live politics.

Rule of law was encouraged to restore when separatist jailbird, Masrat Alam walked out of jail after more than 50 months. Releasing political prisoners was already on this govt’s political platter. But as Delhi-based media became the default judge, jury and hangman in Alam’s release, “aakroush” was felt in Indian parliament forcing state to act. And soon Alam was back on the radar.

Alam was indeed caught on a “wrong foot” days later. As somebody unfurled a Pakistan flag in Geelani’s Srinagar rally, Alam’s fate was sealed yet again. In Kotbalwal Jammu, Alam is now seeking shifting to Srinagar because he claims his life could be in danger. The fate of Alam’s case itself has shut the possibility of releasing other political prisoners and shifting of Kashmiris imprisoned outside to valley jails, as promised by Mufti.

But people still feel they should work towards getting some space. To press for the release of political prisoners including the incarcerated Qasim Faktoo, his supporters launched a signature campaign in Srinagar. Hundreds signed the billboard for many days. The signatories and the organizers knew the fate of earlier signature campaigns but they still haven’t abandoned it.

Many think the “Battle of Ideas” has converted into a “Bullet of Idea”. From Tral forests to Palhalan peripheries, people fell, some never stood up and some lost their eyesight for rest of the life. This negated PDP’s poll campaign that once in power they will do away with “non-lethal” weaponry, piling up handicapped new generation. His last stint as Chief Minister had led to a visible change, especially on the human rights front when he made the security set up accountable to a large extent. But will the process continue? There are no clear answers so far.

One thing that hardly reaches the newspaper front-pages is that BJP flock in the government is still picking up the threads of what governance is all about. Barring Lal Singh, none of them has been in the government ever. But that doesn’t reduce the influence which RSS is exercising on them and their ministries.

Sharing power with BJP also doesn’t mean that PDP won’t give them their right. Sometimes it creates strange situations. As PDP insisted they should get the berth of advocate general, BJP said they must have the right to nominate the attorney’s that represent the state in the Supreme Court. Only after it happened, did the government start thinking about what will happen to the key cases that J&K is contesting in the court. Most of the crucial cases pertain to exclusivity of the state including the state subjects. What could happen to these cases if J&K is represented by rightwing party? Though no case has come up so far, the thinking in Srinagar is that advocate general will personally take care of all these cases.

Many think, Mufti’s Achilles’ heel lies in mismanaging the tensions within the coalition. People are in fact talking in multiple voices on a single issue. The new recruit policy is just one point in which a cabinet sub-committee is sitting now. It met for four hours last week. It remains to be seen if the committee has narrowed the differences over the appointment and the recruitment. In recent past, various voices in the government gave different interpretations to the two words.

Mufti-Modi-Pic

Modi government is itself caught on the wrong foot on two issues – the new flock that represents the party in J&K government and the return of Kashmiri Pandits. Since the party has made it a major poll plank, the party is now facing music. Its ally in Srinagar cannot go ahead with the way RSS would suggest and the Kashmiri pandits have their own diversity within.

Top sources told Kashmir Life that Modi government is facing so much of tension on the issue that they are advising Mufti to make some effort and get all the KPs under one roof. “They (central government) even want Mufti to suggest Pandits about what the government should do because one day one delegation goes to PMO with one demand and the next morning another body goes with something different,” sources aware of the happenings said. “They also believe that Pandits, at least most of them, are unwilling to return home and are merely politicking on the issue to stay in limelight.”

If Modi government faces this dilemma in Delhi, can Mufti not be feeling the heat? Both are strongly connected by the umbilical cord of governance. Mufti govt’s discomfort lies in many headless institutes and bureaucratic barriers in state.

Amid all this, the erstwhile spokesperson of ruling party now donning the role of state education minister was seen in a new verve, otherwise uncommon in his age! In most of 100 days, Mufti’s education minister was inside classrooms, taking test and inspecting schools, cutting a headmaster figure for himself.

As the “headmaster” was busy in the classroom, he faced his own bout of tension when his masters in BJP announced they will issue state subjects certificates to students at school levels. They did it in Kishtwar as a pilot project. This fuelled speculations of demographic change in Muslim majority state. Though the proposal was rolled back, but the education where midday meals still seems an apparent focus might have to wait a bit more before having much-needed rendezvous with renaissance. His aides say they are working, almost overnight. Four schools in south Kashmir have biometric attendance of staff. The curriculum is being revisited by experts and certain chronic cases of attachments have been done away with. “He is doing some meaningful interventions,” says one political commentator. “I believe he is turning out to be a white paper on education himself.”

But NC that headed the last government is angry with Syed Altaf Bukhari, Mufti’s Works Minister. The reason seems the coverage that Bukhari is getting in the local media. Kashmir, a former minister said, is still trapped in Shalteng and Pandrethan. “This government is thriving on media propaganda, which won’t sustain them for so long,” says NC spokesperson, Junaid Mattoo.

Bukhari, however, says weather gods haven’t been supportive. “We cannot throw public money in macadam when the temperature is inadequate,” he says. “We did the highway first between Qazigund and Srinagar and it was a huge challenge.”

Mufti, sources close to him say, will be decided by his governance in the last term. “It is not Mufti versus Omar or Azad,” says a key party worker. “We will be judged by our performance in comparison to what we did in our last tenure.” Last time, the PDP government staked credit for scrapping Special Operations Group (SOG), floating the idea of “healing touch”, revoking POTA, and initiating special schemes to rehabilitate former militants and more importantly, improving security situation. But if that is the comparison, Mufti may well see a tall order.

Initially, Mufti had indicated the continuation of the process – jumping from POTA to AFSPA. It talked loudly on AFSPA and later asserted the party wants its revocation to be a process and not an event.

Like an astute politician, Mufti in his maiden press conference as Chief Minister, gave credit for successful polls to Pakistan, Hurriyat and the militants. Critics termed it “out-of-box shot” that worked well in the vale as it temporarily put to rest his political obituary writing. And then, Ram Madhav reacted to the “unthinkable and unimaginable” comments. That marked an end to out-of-box loud thinking.

Later, when India’s defence minister talked of “terrorist killing terrorist”, Mufti had to reassert that he is not going to get the Ikhwan raj back. “Is it any wonder,” former CM and Mufti’s political nemesis, Omar Abdullah wrote lately, “people are searching for the Mufti of 2002 & can’t seem to find him anywhere!!!”

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