Modi’s Jairam Deficit

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi started working with his ‘compact’ team, it may require one or many ministers for managing Kashmir informally. R S Gull revisits the UPA model and assesses Modi’s team members with some K-connection to understand if NDA has any face to wear the mask

Jairam Ramesh, former Union Rural Development Minister, posing for a photograph after attending a  function in Srinagar. Pic: Bilal Bahadur
Jairam Ramesh, former Union Rural Development Minister, posing for a photograph after attending a function in Srinagar.
Pic: Bilal Bahadur

It has been quite rare for any representative of Delhi government in Srinagar to get immense respect cutting across party lines. Almost everywhere he was introduced by the local unionist leaders as ‘friend of Kashmir’ and his status of being a minister in Dr Manmohan Singh’s government came always next. Be it Mufti Sayeed, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Dr Farooq Abdullah or Omar, Jairam Ramesh was ‘friend of Kashmir’, for all of them.

Factors that led to this phenomenon revolved round Jairam’s immense interest in Kashmir. A frequent visitor to Kashmir, Jairam would initiate ideas and chase them till they start operating. He would intervene in the state government to help initiatives take off. This gave him an image of being pro-Kashmir in Srinagar and in Delhi status of a Kashmir-expert. He was always the most informed minister on Kashmir in Manmohan Singh era.

Routine developmental activities apart, most of the initiatives that Delhi launched in Kashmir for most of the last decade had visible Jairam hand associated with it. Jairam served Manmohan Singh government in different capacities. In UPA-1, Jairam was MoS commerce and industry and was later shifted to power ministry. In UPA-2, he was independently managing the environment and forest ministry before being elevated as a cabinet minister for Rural Development in 2011.

As Commerce & Industry Minister, Jairam was responsible for initiating and implementing the idea of getting Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) as the autonomous agency for holding a buyer-seller meeting. Since 2007, the trade body is holding the exercise every year. They get the budget from the commerce ministry, invite overseas buyers and showcase the handicrafts and it has helped reviving the relationship that sellers and buyers had during the earlier peaceful days of Kashmir.

With the emergence of militancy, most of the institutions vital for Kashmir exports had fled the valley. This was a massive crisis and in May 2007, Jairam initiated the process of restoration and return of the institutional infrastructure which included presence of representatives of Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), Export Credit Guarantee Corporation (ECGC), Central Spice Board, and Export Promotion Councils for Carpet and Handicrafts. At the same time, he chased the ideas of managing registration of Kashmiri handicrafts. Right now five Kashmir hand made products are GI registered and awaiting follow up. To ensure the agri-products get their due, Jairam ensured APEDA associating with potential exports from the sector.

In Power Ministry, the scope was quite little. But Jairam was instrumental in getting NHPC and state owned PDC join hands for a Joint Venture company Chenab Valley Power Projects (CVPP). This is the first JV in which NHPC has as many stakes (49%) as a state owned entity PDC has. Balance 2% stakes are with NTPC. This JV is tasked to implement three power projects totaling 2100 MWs in the Chenab Valley.

As he moved to environment and forests, Jairam visited all the lakes in Kashmir and Jammu. He fast forwarded the release of allocations for Dal Lake conservation and approved the basics for a major conservation plan for the Wullar lake.

Arun Jaitley
Arun Jaitley

His most active role was witnessed once he moved to the Rural Development ministry. Initiatives like Rs 235 crores Skill, Empowerment and Employment (SEE) scheme, known locally as Himayat and Umeed. These initiatives helped him to have a wider access in the length and breadth of the state. But what would distinguish Jairam on Kashmir front was his unorthodox response to the prevailing situations.

 Sensing the crisis in the cross-LoC barter, Jairam met the Finance Minister and suggested him to permit J&K Bank to manage the twin currency accounts involving Indian and Pakistani currencies. As he saw the mess that non-availability of adequate number of aircrafts was creating for Kashmir tourism, he wrote to the Prime Minister suggesting immediate revocation of the ban on night-landing, a decision taken by PMO but slowed down by the authorities at local level.

Jairam would know officers and traders by name. For most of them he was just a call away. He made a statement by ordering that only a Kashmiri brand of mineral water be purchased and served in his ministry and he recommended many Kashmiri products to other ministries. The most interesting detail of his involvement on Kashmir front was that people would seek his intervention even in local governance affairs!

With Congress decimated by the last Lok Sabha elections and Jairam back to the Rajya Sabha, the question is who in Narendra Modi’s government has the capacity to don this mantle that emerged in last one decade?

To many, the answer is not far away: Dr Jitendra Singh Rana, the diabetics specialist who defeated Congress veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad from Udhmapur is now a MOS in PMO. With direct access to PM, Rana Sr could do many things. But he kicked his status on the very first day by saying the new government is planning scrapping of Article 370 for which in the initial phase a debate will be started. This triggered a major row across India, especially in Kashmir. Rana Sr, was obviously addressing his own constituency, back home. But it dented his prospects of ever being a ‘friend of Kashmir’.

Dr Jitendra Singh Rana
Dr Jitendra Singh Rana

People who have known him for a long time assert that even if Dr Rana would not have embroiled himself in the Art 370 controversy, he still lacked the potential of becoming relevant to Kashmir. Medical practice apart, Dr Rana was a columnist who started writing against Kashmir when the militancy broke out. It was during 2008 Amarnath land row that Dr Rana was seen as spokesman of the Shri Amarnath anghrash Samittee (SASS), the Jammu right wing body that enforced an economic blockade of Kashmir, Ladakh, Chenab Valley and Pir Panchal Valley for nearly three months. It was on basis of his 2008 contributions that in 2012 he put in his papers and then joined BJP formally.

The second who is closer to J&K is Arun Jaitely. He has very strong connections across the state, cutting across party lines. Being married in a Jammu family, even the BJP sees him as its J&K expert. That is perhaps why   Jaitely is the first to fly to Jammu whenever there is tension in Kishtwar or somewhere else.

A very well read man, Jaitely is one of the few BJP leaders who are sitting at the pyramid of party’s knowledgeable faces. Given finance ministry and defence in additional charge, Jaitley may not have enough time to play a Jairam replica in Kashmir. His involvement in Kashmir can cost the party dearly in Jammu, its main support base in the state.

When former Army chief General V K Sing was taking oath of office, there was excitement in various quarters across Kashmir. The controversial army chief has served Kashmir in various capacities and allegations are flowing around that he was playing politics as well. The most sensational part of his actions was the Technical Support Division (TSD). Apart from using this super-intelligence and actions group for gathering local high-end intelligence, the TSD was reportedly used to mount various covert overseas operations. A local newspaper even alleged that this unit had filmed one of Omar’s ministers in ‘the act’ and converted him into a source.

But General Singh triggered a larger controversy in Kashmir when he revealed that TSD was paying various political functionaries. Quite a few beneficiaries like Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir. Certain comments of General Singh led the state’s legislative assembly to summon the soldier, an order he did not oblige. The issue has been given a silent death with nobody in Congress, PDP or NC willing to take the talk forward.

 It was this lobby that was happy over General Singh taking over as a minister. However, he has been given the charge of working in North East. He may have a clout of his own but that might not necessarily help him have any say on Kashmir.

General VK Singh
General VK Singh

BJP is an ideological party and has its control in the RSS. There is least chance of its members being liberal. Though a few names like Prakash Javdekar have the projection of being liberal, but Kashmir hand does not require just a liberal. The situation demands a doer, who has mass contacts and an alternative channel of communication between the people and those controlling power and policy in Delhi.

An additional crisis that BJP might face in Kashmir is that neither of the two Kashmir based parties NC and PDP have a solid connection. While Omar Abdullah, who earlier served the NDA as a minister, has burnt all his boats during polls by packaging the Lok Sabha polls a communalism versus secularism, the PDP might be in panic if they had laid any bridge with the BJP using activist writer Madhu Kishwar. She had openly gone against Modi’s decision of taking Simriti Irani as HRD minister for the lack of competence.

It is leading to a situation in which the only informal mass contact between the BJP and Kashmir is through a group of people who are formally BJP members. Given the fact that they are less political and have more vested interests, they can spoil the broth. In such a situation, it is only the security grid and the bureaucratic circle that will get strengthened. The two groups can take Kashmir back to the days when political initiatives would be subservient to what the security men would think. That is a step backward, again.


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