On October 23, Home Minister Rajnath Singh arrived in Srinagar for a daylong visit to oversee the security and developmental scenario. The visit was planned in a time period between the conclusion of the municipal polls and the formal beginning of the panchayat polls. This was Rajnath’s first visit to Kashmir after the imposition of Governor’s rule following the demeaning dismissal of Mehbooba Mufti-led BJPDP alliance in July.
Singh pretended that the situation in Kashmir has shown signs of improvement as he cited the down spiral in incidents of stone-pelting and fresh recruitment in militant ranks. Last time, his yardstick for improvement was a motor ride from the airport through a city highway on a no-shutdown day and his participation in a sports event managed by the then ruling party. This time, a complete shutdown against a spree of killings greeted him and he was flown to and from Nehru Guest House in a state chopper.
Singh’s engagements were brief and targeted. He held separate meetings with two former chief ministers, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, apart from talking to delegations of four prominent mainstream parties including National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party. Indications were given that the two parties have mellowed down their stance on their participation in the upcoming panchayat polls scheduled to be held between November 17 and December 11. The two parties would not publicly announce their participation in the village polls as the candidates would not be required to contest on party basis.
The PDP and NC announced to stay away from the polls on the plea that the central government linked the conduct of polls with a bunch of litigations in the Supreme Court challenging the special constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir. It was NC’s patriarch Farooq Abdullah who surprised his party colleagues by deciding to stay away from the polls. The PDP was constrained to follow suit, and its decision to stay away from the polls was driven by the local political compulsions. Informed sources said that Congress High Command was also mulling to stay away from the polls but the state level leadership took the plunge to refuse the BJP a walkover.
At least two senior leaders in PDP and NC told this writer that the conduct of municipal polls, in whatever manner they were held, has unnerved many top leaders of these parties. They think that the emergence of a new bunch of political entities, who would take over several municipalities, would begin threatening their relevance in future. These leaders concede that their political relevance is a function of their participation in elections, with or without the popular support.
Perhaps Rajnath Singh conveyed to the two former chief ministers that despite their cold shoulder to the municipal polls, the process was concluded and it would not be very difficult to hold the panchayat polls in the same manner. The message was clear that they must not discourage their party rank and file to involve in the upcoming polls. The predicament of these parties is that the Lok Sabha and state assembly polls would be announced any time after the conclusion of panchayat polls. Boycotting these polls would not be affordable.
The timing of Singh’s visit was significant on the security front also. Three days after his visit, the Dubar Move offices closed in Srinagar for bi-annual shifting to winter capital Jammu. This was technically the last security review meeting in Srinagar as the Unified Headquarters would operate from Jammu in the subsequent months. Informed sources said that the home minister devised a strategy for the crucial four weeks between the conclusion of municipal polls and voting for the first phase of panchayat polls. This explains the sudden uptick in the incidents of violence and frequency of encounters between militants and the counter-insurgent forces.
Ignoring ground realities and refusing agency to the people of Kashmir is not a new phenomenon, but BJP is doing it in the most brazen way. Celebrating victory which is actually a humiliating defeat to the idea of democracy is part of the brazenness the party is showing in the wake of general elections in India. The two influential pro-India parties in Kashmir, however, have failed to devise an effective strategy to offset the BJP’s inroads in Kashmir. The possible covert participation in the upcoming polls would further compromise the two parties’ politics in the region. Governor Satya Pal Malik’s incessant attacks on the political philosophies of these parties are not misplaced. He deliberately targets the options of political resolution within the ambit of the Indian constitution, which has been the hallmark of the politics of these parties since their existence.
In the pursuit of its political objectives, the worst targets of the BJP’s vendetta would continue to be the separatists in Kashmir. This explains why Singh squarely refused to engage in any kind of dialogue process. The government has even sidelined Dineshwar Sharma, the Center’s special representative, who was mandated to talk to stakeholders in Kashmir. He is not even relevant to talk to street boys to offer them cricket bats.